Salome Kwarwah, a Liberian nurse who survived the deadly Ebola epidemic passed away from pregnancy complications on February 22, 2017. She was age 28.
Salome thought her life was over when she tested positive for Ebola, which killed her parents. But after recovering at the Elwa 3 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Ebola treatment center in Monrovia,Liberia, she began working as a mental health counselor there, helping others to fight the virus. She told her story before her demise:
“It all started with a severe headache and a fever. Then, later, I began to vomit and I got diarrhea. My father was sick and my mother too. My niece, my fiancé, and my sister had all fallen sick. We all felt helpless.
It was my uncle who first got the virus in our family. He contracted it from a woman he helped bring to hospital. He got sick and called our father for help, and our father went to him to bring him to a hospital for treatment. A few days after our father came back, he too got sick. We all cared for him and got infected too.
On August 21, I and my whole family made our way to MSF’s Ebola treatment center in Monrovia. When we arrived at the treatment unit, the nurses took my mother and me to the same tent. My fiancé, my sister, my father, and my niece were taken to separate tents. My sister was pregnant and had a miscarriage.
They took our blood and we waited for them to announce the results. After the lab test, I was confirmed positive. I thought that was the end of my world. I was afraid, because we had heard people say that if you catch Ebola, you die. The rest of my family also tested positive for the virus.
After a few days in the isolation ward, my condition became worse. My mother was also fighting for her life. She was in a terrible state. At that point, the nurses made the decision to move me to another tent. By then, I barely understood what was going on around me. I was unconscious. I was helpless. The nurses had to bathe me, change my clothes, and feed me. I was vomiting constantly and I was very weak.
I was feeling severe pains inside my body. The feeling was overpowering. Ebola is like a sickness from a different planet. It comes with so much pain. It causes so much pain that you can feel it in your bones. I’d never felt pain like this in my lifetime.
My mother and father died while I was battling for my life. I didn’t know they were dead. It was only one week later, when I had started recovering, that the nurses told me that they had passed away. I was sad, but I had to accept that it had happened. I was shocked that I had lost both my parents. But god spared my life from the disease, as well as the lives of my sister, my niece, and my fiancé.
Though I am sad at the death of my parents, I’m happy to be alive. God could not have allowed the entire family to perish. He kept us alive for a purpose.
I am grateful to the workers here for their care. They are very nice people. They really care for their patients. The care, the medication, and encouragement can help a patient to survive.
When you’re sick with Ebola, you always have to encourage yourself: take your medication; drink enough fluids—whether it’s oral rehydration solution or water or juices—but don’t keep your system empty. Even if they bring you food and you don’t have any appetite to eat, just eat the soup.
After 18 days in the treatment center, the nurses came in one morning and took my blood and carried it to the laboratory for testing. Later that evening, at around 5:00PM, I saw them return. They came and announced to me that I was ready to go home because I had tested negative.
Then I felt that my life had begun again. I went home with joy, despite having lost my parents.
I arrived back home feeling happy, but my neighbors were still afraid of me. Few of them welcomed me back; others are still afraid to be around me—they say that I still have Ebola. There was a particular group that kept calling our house “Ebola home.”
But, to my surprise, I saw one of the ladies in the group come to my house to ask me to take her mother to the treatment center because she was sick with Ebola. I did it, and I felt happy that at least she knows now that someone cannot go to a supermarket to buy Ebola. It’s a disease that anyone—any family—can get. If someone has Ebola, it isn’t good to stigmatize them, because you don’t know who is next in line to contract the virus.
Now, I am back at the treatment center, helping people who are suffering from the virus to recover. I am working as a mental health counselor. I find pleasure in helping people, and that is what brought me here. My efforts here may help other people to survive.
When I am on a shift, I counsel my patients; I talk to them and I encourage them. If a patient doesn’t want to eat, I encourage them to eat. If they are weak and are unable to bathe on their own, I help to bathe them. I help them with all my might because I understand the experience—I’ve been through the very same thing.
I feel happy in my new role. I treat my patients as if they are my children. I talk to them about my own experiences. I tell them my story to inspire them and to let them know that they too can survive. This is important, and I think it will help them.
My elder brother and my sister are happy for me to work here. They support me in this 100 percent. Even though our parents didn’t survive the virus, we can help other people to recover.
In a tribute paid to the outstanding Ebola fighter on Facebook, James S. Davis, described Kwarwah as a heroine:
“I first met Salome Karwah at the Young Life Ebola Survivors Camp for young people who were affected and survived Liberia’s Ebola Epidemic. She was brought to camp by her elder sister, Josephine Karwah, a volunteer leader of Young Life. Like Josephine, Salome was a determined, amazing and promising young lady. Her story was horrifying–Ebola hit her home–and killed her parents, including several family members. Salome & her sister were among the only survivors in that family. But Salome’s agonizing moments didn’t stop her from fighting to defend her country during the Ebola outbreak. Being the youngest, Salome was among 5 individuals named by the Time Magazine as Ebola Fighters of the Year 2014 for their huge sacrifices to fight stop the spread of Ebola and to save many people who contracted the Ebola virus. Regrettably, this brave and strong Ebola fighter died two days ago following some complications after giving birth to her son. She was truly an outstanding Ebola fighter and a heroine who courageously stood up for our country in its darkest days.
The family and the entire Survivors Network Community are in our thoughts and prayers.
Salome, you will forever be remembered for your heroic role in the battle against Ebola. GONE TOO SOON! Rest In Peace.”
NB: Below is a full story from the Time Magazine about Salome’s involvement in the Ebola Crisis:
~Salome Karwah, 26 in 2014
Nurse’s assistant at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Monrovia and an Ebola survivor
We heard that there was a new sickness coming by the name of Ebola and it is in Guinea. And I was afraid, because Guinea is not far from Liberia. And most of our businesspeople go to Guinea to buy goods and bring them to Liberia. So I knew it was a possibility that they could bring it to our country.
I was working for our family clinic in the Smell No Taste area [near the airport, in Margibi County, an hour and a half from Monrovia by car]. I was a nurse. Both my mother and father, plus my elder sister and I, [were] medical personnel.
We got Ebola through a crisis that happened near our town. This lady, 26 years of age, she was pregnant, from [the city of] Kakata. And then she got sick. And then she died.
A lady from my community went to the funeral. And there she contracted the disease. My father’s brother, my uncle, was her pastor for the church. She got sick, and he went to help her as her pastor. He contracted it from her, and then she died. After a week, my uncle got sick.
[My uncle] drove to our house for my father to see what really was going on. That is when my father contracted it. And then he brought it into our house, with my mother taking care of him. He was a diabetes patient. When he got sick, I used to give him his medication, his injection, insulin. And then I contracted it.
My sister was pregnant six months. Helping my dad, she got it too. And then my mother did, because both of them used to sleep on the same bed. And then my niece who was 6 years of age. And then my fiancé. So everyone was infected.
They looked like normal symptoms. None of us really thought of Ebola. One of my brothers is an accountant at the clinic where they used to do the Ebola test. When my uncle died, he tried to find the cause of death. So he went there and took my uncle’s test. And it was positive.
[Then] he took my father’s blood, took his test, and my father was positive too. That way he knew that Ebola was in our house. So he took his personal vehicle and brought my father to the ETU [Ebola treatment unit], which was the 20th of August. My father died August 21st. He had just slept, and the next day he passed.
He brought my mother, my sister and me on the 21st, the day our father died. My mother died the 24th of August.
When I got sick, I was breast-feeding my 10-month-old baby. My brother took her blood to do her tests. She was negative. So my fiancé was taking care of her, because I was in the ETU. Since she was negative, they couldn’t bring her to me.
The 29th, [my fiancé] got sick. He left the baby with our next-door neighbor and came for the tests, and was positive.
Due to the death of my parents, I went out of my mind for about one week. I was going mad. I was very, very much distressed. I just felt that everything was over. But after a week, with encouragement from the nurses and a counselor—they helped me a lot—I become stable. I was taking my medication, I was eating. And always they were coming to encourage me.
To have Ebola is very, very horrible. It deals directly with the brain. It makes you—you can’t remember anything. The pain is very much severe. If you don’t have strong resistance, you can’t stand it. The headache of Ebola is extraordinary. It hurts like they are busting your head with an ax. And it gives you severe body pains, like you don’t even want to move your body from here to there.
The girl that [my fiancé] left my baby with, she used to bring her to the ETU, and I saw her every two days. She would stand across the fence and I would sing for my baby. I made a song for her on the day she was born. I used to sing it before she went to sleep. It goes like this: “Go to sleep, baby, go to sleep. Go to sleep, baby.” She knows it very well. So I sang this song when they brought her to the fence. She would be laughing, playing, and then they would carry her back.
I was in the treatment center for four weeks [and] four days. Really, what made me survive is the support from the nurses. The support from the psychosocial [team] also really helped me.
They were looking for survivors to come and work [at the MSF clinic]. I make it my duty to come. The more I interact with people, the more I will forget about my sad story. The more I share my story with people, the more I will get strong, strong, strong and stronger. So I decided to make myself very busy to help others survive. The day I came here for an interview, I saw people carrying bodies. I started crying. I told my friend, “I can’t make it.” But when I went the next day, I said, “Sitting and crying won’t help me. So it’s better I go and work. The more I see it, the more I will adjust myself to it.”
I go in [to the treatment wards] not saying I am a survivor. I ask [the patients], “Where do you live? What is your contact number?” And I tell them, “Just because you are here doesn’t mean that this is the end of your life. You have another life to live. I was a patient here. I managed to survive. So if I can survive—I’m not different from you—you can survive too.” And the person will say, “Ah, you are a survivor? How did you manage to survive?” And I tell them.
When I see my patients survive, it brings a great joy to me, because at least my efforts never went in vain. —as told to Aryn Baker.
Photo credit: Times Magazine
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