Pauline Cafferkey: UK Ebola nurse who survived the virus to return to Sierra Leone for 'closure'

'It will be good to go back just for things to come full circle,' says the 41-year-old

Katie Forster
Wednesday 12 April 2017 09:22
Ebola survivor explains why she wants to return to Sierra Leone

The Scottish nurse who survived Ebola has said she will return to Sierra Leone because she wants to end her ordeal with “something positive”.

Pauline Cafferkey, 41, was the first person in the UK to be diagnosed with Ebola, which she caught in 2014 while working as a volunteer in the west African country.

She said her fundraising trip next month to raise money for the some 12,000 children left orphaned by the disease would help bring her “closure” after a “terrible couple of years”.

During the Ebola crisis which swept Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2013 to 2016, more than 28,000 cases were reported, resulting in over 11,000 deaths.

Ms Cafferkey, who lives in Glasgow, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme she was “excited” to go back and raise funds for the charity Street Child and is “not going there with any trepidation”.

“It's where things kind of started for me and I've had a terrible couple of years since then. So it will be good to go back just for things to come full circle for me and a little bit of closure,” she said.

“Most people have been supportive if they know that I'm going back. I've had a few people, like family friends, who say 'just be careful when you get back there'.”

Ms Cafferkey suffered a series of further health scares due to complications linked to the disease, at one stage falling critically ill.

When she was first diagnosed, she spent almost a month in isolation before doctors said she had fully recovered and discharged her from the Royal Free Hospital in London.

More than 28,000 Ebola cases were reported during the epidemic

However, she was readmitted to hospital on three occasions – in October 2015 and February and October 2016, and was diagnosed with meningitis caused by the virus, which was still present in her body.

This led to numerous health complications including thyroid problems, hair loss, joint pain and mobility difficulties.

“My health is not what is was before, but it’s as good as it’s going to get. And I’m really happy about that,” she said.

The nurse of 16 years also faced disciplinary proceedings over events surrounding her return to the UK for which she was later cleared.

She will take part in a 10km run during the fundraising trip for Street Child, which estimates around 12,000 children were left orphaned, with 1,400 still critically at-risk and struggling to survive.

Ms Cafferkey said she has the ordeal of contracting the virus in common with its African victims, although their experiences were “very different”.

“The Ebola patients in Sierra Leone didn't know what they were going home to, or who was left alive in their family. They might be going back to sheer hell,” she said.

Ms Cafferkey travelled to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to volunteer at an Ebola treatment centre with Save The Children in 2014.

She returned to the UK on 28 December that year for what was supposed to be a break as part of a rotation system but she was quickly struck down with the killer virus herself.

In 2016 the nurse also faced misconduct proceedings before the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) over allegations relating to her arrival in the UK in the early stages of her infection.

Ms Cafferkey was cleared by the NMC as her judgement at the airport had been so impaired by the developing illness that she could not be found guilty of misconduct.

She said the proceedings were a “massive stress” at a difficult time, but she did not hold anything against the NMC.

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