Facing the Ebola Threat (October 15, 2014)

Written by Barb Brouwer

Published by Salmon Arm Observer on Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bev Kauffeldt has experienced hell on earth and has chosen to return.

Confident in her faith in God and her work, Kauffeldt flew back to Monrovia, Liberia on Sunday – straight into the maelstrom of an overwhelming Ebola outbreak.

A worker with the Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, Kauffeldt, her husband Kendell and their children have called Liberia home for the past 10 years.

In late June, Kauffeldt first shared concerns about the disease that emerged in March in Guekadou, Guinea and how Samaritan’s Purse was working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to care for those who were ill and help halt the progress of the devastating illness.

But the disease began its unabated spread over the next few weeks.

In the first two weeks of July, Kauffeldt was working with MSF in a private hospital in Foya, Liberia, some 10 to 15 kilometres from where the outbreak had occurred.

Her role was to oversee water management – making sure the clinic had potable water, sanitation and hygiene.

Among her many tasks was removing the bodies of those who died.

All those jobs are done by people wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), often with chlorine sprayers on their backs to sanitize areas that may have been contaminated by body fluids.

“It’s very claustrophobic and extremely hot; you have to get used to being wet inside your suit and trust it’s sweat, not a breach where something else is getting in,” says Kauffeldt, noting the process of dressing is a lengthy one with double, triple and quadruple checks by each person and another team member, followed by a mirror check to make sure no part of the body is exposed.

“You have to trust your team, the equipment and protocols; that, next to your faith, is the most important thing.”

Back in Monrovia, days were busy and long. Unlike Foya where she might have gone into the clinic every two or three days, Kauffeldt was donning the protective gear and entering highly contaminated areas as many as three times a day.

“You can’t be in the suit more than 75 minutes, but we were in there up to 90 minutes at a time,” she says, explaining nobody was allowed to put on the suit unless they were properly nourished.

MSF and Kendell, as head of the Samaritan’s Purse mission, made urgent pleas for help to the World Health Organization, United Nations and the Liberian government, requests that fell on deaf ears. The two agencies did their best, but the death toll rose quickly.

“On average, we were bagging two to three bodies a day,” she says with a long pause when asked what it was like to be so close to people who were dying. “Ebola is something straight from hell.”

A hemorrhagic disease, Ebola includes violent expulsions of diarrhea and vomiting, accompanied by raging fever and eventually bleeding out through the body’s orifices.

“So, so many people in so much pain you can’t even touch their skin... The doctors and nurses we worked with tried so hard to give some kind of comfort,” something Kauffeldt says was extremely difficult with the no-touch policy. “You comfort through your eyes and maybe a cold drink.”

Kauffeldt says that by July 20 it was obvious to MSF and Samaritan’s Purse that the situation was spiralling out of control and beyond the abilities of the two organizations.

When Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol were confirmed to have Ebola, the decision was made to evacuate other members of the Samaritan’s Purse team.

Kauffeldt and her children were in a second group to be evacuated and had no idea where they were going until they were on the plane. They were not permitted to disclose their destination.

Having to leave her husband until the next evacuation was difficult, but something Kauffeldt understood because of his position.

“In all, the hardest thing was not being able to hug each other; we just stood and looked at each other and cried,” she says.

Once back in North America, team members followed medical protocols, taking their temperatures twice a day for 21 days. Considered to be low-risk for spreading the disease, Kauffeldt said nobody felt much like going out among other people anyway.

“We had just been through hell; we just wanted to find a hole and rest in it.”

Back in North America, Kendell will stay with the couple’s sons, 10-year-old Isaac and 11-year-old Felix while Kauffeldt is in Liberia.

Samaritan’s Purse has refocused their programming to one of a public health response.

“We are not responding clinically, so no one will go into the units at all,” she says, noting workers will be training Liberians and providing care kits and protection kits comprised of a bucket with chlorine, soap and gloves. “Our approach is working to reduce the transmission of Ebola and training Liberians to care for Liberians.”

Secure in God’s grace, Kauffeldt says she is not afraid to return to Africa.

“I would say I have a peace about going. Does that mean I won’t have some anxiousness when I land? No,” she says. “I have a full understanding that my life is in God’s hands, but that doesn't mean I like the fact Ebola is destroying my home for the past 10 years. I want to kick it in the butt, but I have a very strong respect for the disease.”

Intent on taking life day-by-day for the moment, in the long-term, Kauffeldt is not finished with Liberia.

“God doesn't send us to easy places,” she says. “Working with Sams, we go into places that people are trying to get out of, that’s just the nature of our work. And in some ways, we have an amazing opportunity to help them in a practical way, show them God’s love and that there is hope.”

And her hope right now is that the international community will step up to the plate.

“It is very evident and obvious that WHO and the UN were very slow to respond...” says Kauffeldt.

“Now there’s a lot more people responding, but they just came too late to the dance.”

For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.ca.

Read more: http://www.saobserver.net/news/279295502.html