Doc of the Day

What it takes to care for patients with Ebola virus while President Obama visits

Colleen Kraft was part of a team providing 24-hour care to patients in the SCD Unit.
Photo by Kay Hinton.

On September 16, as a third patient with Ebola virus was being cared for at Emory, President Barack Obama visited the CDC for an update on the outbreak in West Africa and to discuss the US response. 

During that visit, the president met with Emory physicians, nurses, and others involved with the treatment of Ebola patients here.

As the on-call physician for the SCD unit, Colleen Kraft 05MR 09FM 13G was working what would become a seventeen-hour day during the president’s visit. Her mind was consumed with caring for the critically ill patient who had been in the unit since September 9.

“I’d been in the patient room for five hours, and when I came out, I looked at my phone and fifteen people had texted me about meeting the president. Before, these things would have been huge to me, but we were so focused on doing everything we could for the patient that it almost didn’t even register,” she said the following day. “I realize I met the president yesterday, but in the grand scheme of things it was not the most important part of my day.”

Even when she is not scheduled as “doc of the day” in the unit, Kraft spends most of her time there. The morning after meeting the president, she was back, helping to monitor the patient’s progress and consulting with unit director Bruce Ribner and the nursing staff.

“Everything we are doing is new and is under a lot of scrutiny. We work daily with the CDC when the unit is activated. We are kind of giving a case report
on each day for others to learn from. We have gained some great information from our patients, but it is not something that is easy to do,” says Kraft, medical director of the EUH microbiology lab. 

The health care team routinely spent hours on phone calls with entities such as the WHO, the CDC, and health care providers in Europe and elsewhere in the US.

Although she says the schedule has been grueling—fourteen- to seventeen-hour days at the hospital away from her husband and three young children—Kraft is proud that Emory’s administration agreed to treat the Ebola patients. She believes awareness and advocacy will continue to increase, leading to greater understanding of the virus
and much-needed assistance for patients in Africa.

On his visit, President Obama announced plans to scale up US response to the Ebola crisis. Since then, the Department of Defense has sent nearly four thousand military personnel and three mobile labs to Liberia, with plans to send four more labs and to build seventeen one-hundred-bed units to treat Ebola patients. 

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