US Ebola Patient Gets Serum From Recovered Victim to Fight Virus

Dr. Kent Brantly gave multiple blood donations to the improving patient.

ByABC News
September 11, 2014, 4:59 PM

— -- An American Ebola survivor has donated blood to help an infected U.S. doctor fight the deadly disease.

Dr. Richard Sacra, missionary with the group SIM, received a “convalescent serum” created from plasma donated by former Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly, officials at the Nebraska Medical Center said.

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Brantly, who was the first-ever Ebola patient to be treated in the United States, traveled to Nebraska late last week and donated blood twice in the hopes that his blood would contain antibodies that could help Sacra survive the virus. They have the same blood type.

Dr. Phillip Smith, head of the biocontainment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said doctors then created a serum, or plasma, by removing the red blood cells. While there is no known cure for Ebola, the serum was used because there was a chance that it could help Sacra’s immune system fight off the virus.

“We’re hoping it [would] jumpstart his immunity. To survive [Ebola] you have to build up enough antibodies to [fight the virus],” Smith said. “We were hoping to buy him some time, to give his immune system time to battle the disease.”

Dr. Angela Hewlett, associate medical director of the isolation unit, said that in addition to the convalescent serum, Sacra, 51, was treated with an undisclosed experimental drug. Sacra has received the drug every night since arriving last week, but doctors said they do not know whether any of the medical treatments have helped Sacra move toward a recovery.

“I don’t know how much is due to the drug, convalescent serum [or supportive medications],” Smith said. “We decided we were more interested in saving Rick than creating a peer review study.”

Sacra contracted the virus in Liberia, where he was treating pregnant women in the maternity ward. Both Brantly and Sacra were treating patients at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia when they became infected.

Another U.S. missionary, Nancy Writebol, was also infected at the same hospital earlier this year.

The Ebola virus is believed to have killed at least 2,200 people across West Africa, since the outbreak started in March. There is no proven cure for the virus.

Debbie Sacra, the infected doctor’s wife, said Brantly and Sacra were close and that Brantly spoke to Sacra at the Nebraska hospital when he arrived.

“It really meant a lot to us that [Brantly] was willing to give that donation so soon after his recovery,” Debbie Sacra said. “I spoke to his wife. We both marveled at the fact that they had the same blood type.”

Smith, of the Nebraska Medical Center, said Sacra’s condition has steadily improved since he arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center last week. Hewlett, also with the isolation unit, said Sacra’s condition has improved to “good” from stable.

Debbie Sacra said she has spoken to her husband on closed-circuit television and that he has been moving around and eating some foods.

“I was talking to him, “ she said, “and he was mentally 80 percent.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.