Ebola too advanced to save Md. surgeon
OMAHA — A surgeon who contracted Ebola in his native Sierra Leone did not receive aggressive treatment until nearly two weeks after he first started showing symptoms — a delay that doctors said probably made it impossible for anyone to save his life.
Dr. Martin Salia was in the 13th day of his illness when he reached Omaha on Saturday. He had waited three days to be formally diagnosed after an initial test for Ebola was negative. He waited five more days to be flown to the United States.
By the time the 44-year-old Maryland man got to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the deadly virus had done too much damage, shutting down Salia’s kidneys and making breathing difficult, doctors said. He died Monday.
“In the very advanced stages, even the modern techniques we have at our disposal are not enough to help these patients once they reach a critical threshold,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the medical center.
The virus has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa.
Salia, who chose to work in his homeland despite more lucrative opportunities elsewhere, was first tested for Ebola on Nov. 7, but the test was negative, and he was discharged from a treatment center in Sierre Leone.
It’s not unusual to get false negative tests for Ebola in the early stages, because the amount of the virus in the bloodstream is still low, said Dr. Phil Smith, the infectious disease expert who leads the Nebraska Medical Center’s biocontainment unit.
The government warns doctors to be wary of possible false negative tests for Ebola.
Salia tested positive for the disease on Nov. 10 but did not arrive at an Omaha hospital until Saturday.
Two other Ebola patients treated in Omaha this fall arrived at the hospital about a week earlier in their illnesses, before nausea, vomiting and more serious symptoms set in. Both of those men recovered.
Government officials in Sierra Leone promised a full investigation into the treatment Salia received.
“At this point, we can’t say for certain whether it was this misdiagnosis or not that led to his death,” Deputy Information Minister Theo Nicol said.