Mother of Wichita pastor contracts Ebola virus in Africa

Nancy Writebol, a Christian missionary in Liberia, has tested positive with the Ebola virus.
Nancy Writebol, a Christian missionary in Liberia, has tested positive with the Ebola virus. Courtesy of Jeremy Writebol

A Wichita pastor said Wednesday that his mother, who is a Christian missionary in Liberia, is fighting the Ebola virus.

Jeremy Writebol, associate pastor of the Journey the Way, a church in the Delano neighborhood, received a phone call Saturday from his father saying that his mother, Nancy Writebol, had tested positive for the virus. She has since been in isolation and is taking fluids to help fight the illness, which has killed nearly 700 people in the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

“There is hope that she would recover,” Jeremy Writebol said Wednesday. “Statistically, there is a survival rate of 46 percent of those who contract the virus. So there is hope.

“We are all pulling for her. The symptoms were caught very early on, and that is a good thing on her behalf.”

His father, David Writebol, was also exposed to the virus – before his mother showed symptoms – but so far has not tested positive. David Writebol, 58, is monitoring his temperature every six hours, his son said.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, which causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea and massive internal bleeding. It typically has a fatality rate of 60 to 90 percent.

Jeremy Writebol said his mother was working as a nurse’s aide with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid organization affiliated with Serving in Mission. She and another volunteer, Kent Brantly, both contracted the disease.

“Mom continues to be in stable condition and is still working through fighting the virus as best as she can,” Writebol said. “She continues to maintain good spirits.”

Brantly, a physician, and Nancy Writebol, 59, were listed in serious condition on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by Samaritan’s Purse. Although their situation remains dire, both had shown “slight improvement” in the past 24 hours, according to the charity.

“We are doing everything possible to help Dr. Brantly and Nancy,” Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham said. “We ask everyone to please pray urgently for them and their families.”

The current outbreak has claimed at least 672 lives and has spread to more than 60 locations in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Liberia’s president late Wednesday ordered the nation’s schools to shut down and most civil servants to stay home because of the virus, which has killed more than 130 people in that country.

The Peace Corps said Wednesday it is temporarily removing 340 of its volunteers from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in West Africa.

Samaritan’s Purse also announced plans to remove many of its personnel from Liberia on Wednesday, although medical staff members will remain in the area to treat patients, the statement said.

Jeremy Writebol said he was interviewed by numerous major media outlets Wednesday, such as NBC’s “Today” show, wanting to know more about his mother. He said he talks daily by cellphone with his mother, because she is in isolation, but talks with his father via Skype.

Both parents work with SIM and are based in North Carolina. They have been in Africa serving different nations for more than a decade. They have been in Liberia for the past year.

“My mom had been serving as a nurse’s assistant and hospitality coordinator with volunteers until the Ebola virus hit,” Jeremy Writebol said. “When that hit, she served as a nurse’s assistant in helping take care of the decontamination portion of the physicians. She would help the doctors suit up, and after they finished, she would help decontaminate them with a bleach and chlorine shower.”

When his father initially gave him the news about his mother and the virus, Writebol said two things struck him about the conversation.

“I was completely broken and sad for my mom – just in terms of how this affects them and our lives,” he said. “So certainly, there was raw emotion, pain and sadness.”

But there was also something else.

“I am so proud of my parents for their service and love of Jesus – to help people with physical needs and tell them what Christ has done,” he said.

“I know the purpose of my parent’s mission is not to be heroes but to deeply help those in need and suffering. But when you talk about heroes, my mom and dad are at the top of the list.”

Contributing: Los Angeles Times and Associated Press