A local nurse was on the front lines in the treatment of the two American aid workers who contracted Ebola and were brought back to the United States where they were cured after two weeks of tireless efforts.
“Ebola has a very high mortality rate, anywhere from 80 to 90 percent,” said former McMinnville resident Dustin Hillis, who was assigned to the special infectious disease unit at Emory Hospital in Atlanta that handled the two Ebola cases.
A 2003 graduate of Warren County High School, Hillis received his nursing degree from Georgia State University and took a nursing job with Emory shortly after graduation. His normal assignment is in neuro intensive care.
However, upon news the two aid workers were being shipped here from Liberia for treatment, a rarely used special section of the hospital was opened to accept them. Hillis said he embraced the temporary transfer to the infectious disease unit without any fears, despite the fact it was the first time Ebola had been treated in the territorial United States.
“I didn’t have any reservations,” Hillis said, noting a large staff was needed since they were treating two patients at once.
Hillis said the Centers for Disease Control has strict guidelines when it comes to such highly contagious and lethal diseases.
“The CDC has its guidelines for safety and we went two steps above them,” Hillis said.
Hillis wore a respirator and a complete bio-suit when he had contact with the patients.
“Ebola is spread through bodily fluid contact,” Hillis said. “That’s why we had to take precautions against coming in contact with any fluids.”
The assignment lasted for over two weeks. Both patients have been released from care and have been proclaimed Ebola free and safe to return to society. Hillis was at the press conference for patient Dr. Kent Brantley, receiving a hug from the appreciative patient as Emory officials revealed the aid worker’s full recovery. The press conference can be viewed on CNN. During the conference, Brantley praised the work of the hospital staff and said he hopes his plight brings a spotlight to the Ebola epidemic in Africa.
With his historic assignment completed, Hillis says he intends to take it easy for awhile since his scheduled vacation just happened to fall this coming week.
While Hillis left Warren County for MTSU in 2006, and then headed out of state in 2011, all of his family still resides here.