Massachusetts Doctor Infected With Ebola in West Africa

Richard Sacra is third U.S. health worker to be infected with the virus.

ByABC News
September 3, 2014, 5:05 PM

— -- A Massachusetts doctor has been identified as the third U.S. health worker to be infected with the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, was treating pregnant women in the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, when he was infected, according to missionary group SIM.

Sacra, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School, was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s separate Ebola isolation facility, the group said, adding that it was unclear how he contracted the virus. All infected U.S. health workers were working at the ELWA hospital when they contracted the virus.

Sacra's family released a statement today saying the doctor had isolated himself after running a fever Friday.

“Although this was the worst possible news, [Sacra's wife, Debbie Sacra] is confident that Dr. Jerry Brown, Rick’s Liberian colleague and friend, is doing everything he can to care for Rick through these days when the sickness is most intense," the family said in a statement.

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Sacra has been transferred to the ELWA Ebola ward where is "doing well and is in good spirits," according to SIM, an international, interdenominational Christian organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“My heart was deeply saddened, but my faith was not shaken, when I learned another of our missionary doctors contracted Ebola,” SIM president Bruce Johnson said in a statement.

Sacra specializes in family medicine and practices in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and spent nearly two decades working in Liberia, according to the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Sacra’s colleagues at the medical school called him a “gifted physician” who had taken on extra work to treat pregnant women in the rural country.

“What is particular special about Rick is not only a gifted physician, but [he] has impeccable communication skills,” Dr. Warren Ferguson, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Massachusetts Medical School, told reporters. “[And he] is very unassuming and humble.”

SIM is the same missionary group for which Nancy Writebol had been working when she contracted Ebola in July. Writebol and fellow U.S. Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who worked for the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, were evacuated from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment and later declared virus-free after treatment.

Writebol was discharged Aug. 19 and Brantly went home two days later.

A sign for ELWA Hospital is pictured.

Since March, the deadly virus has killed 1,552 people and sickened 1,517 others, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

The virus has sickened at least 240 health workers, half of whom have died, according to WHO.

"Ebola is taking its toll in many ways. It directly kills many who it infects, but indirectly it's killing many more," said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, who just returned from reporting in Monrovia, Liberia.

Emergency rooms are closed, many hospital wards are as well, leaving people who are sick with heart disease, trauma, pregnancy complications, pneumonia, malaria and all the everyday health emergencies with nowhere to go.

"I worry that this latest case, an American doctor contracting Ebola while caring for a maternity patient, will lead overseas groups that are providing non-Ebola support to question whether they can safely do so," Besser added. "These countries need more medical support. Any further reduction would be disastrous."

The Sacra family warned in their statement that without doctors the lack of health care in West Africa could become a crisis.

"There are many people in Liberia who are suffering in this epidemic and others who are not receiving standard health care because clinics and hospitals have been forced to close," according to the statement. "West Africa is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and the world needs to respond compassionately and generously.”