The third American to be diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus is Dr. Rick Sacra from Holden, Mass. In a press conference held today for Nancy Writebol, one of three patients that contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia, officials with the missionary organization SIM USA made the announcement about Dr. Sacra, who is being treated at EVM Hospital outside of Monrovia.
Dr. Sacra and his wife, Debbie, live in Holden with their three children, according to multiple sources. Dr. Sacra is a family physician in Worcester and an assistant professor of family medicine and community health at University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he graduated in 1989.
At the news of the outbreak, Dr. Sacra volunteered about a month ago to go with SIM to Liberia. He was working in the obstetrics unit when, SIM officials believe, he contracted the virus.
“Rick is the consummate family physician, incredibly bright, skilled with his hands, and also just a wonderful human being,’’ said Dr. Warren Ferguson, a colleague and friend of Dr. Sacra’s at UMass Medical School, in a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon. Dr. Warren hired Dr. Sacra right out of the UMass residency program in 1992. “He’s passionate not only about his missionary work, but also extremely devoted to combining his faith with medicine.’’
Dr. Sacra also teaches in the school’s residency program at the Family Health Center of Worcester. According to UMass Medical School, Dr. Sacra has spent much of his career working overseas, and has made frequent working trips over the past two decades to Liberia. One of his students, Dr. Virginia Van Duyne, suppressed tears as she spoke at a media briefing about her mentor and family friend. She used to babysit for the Sacra family as a teenager.
“Through course of my career pursuing medicine he’s been a mentor to me and an influence on the kind of doctor I am today,’’ said Dr. Van Duyne. “I got to spend a few months with him while I was in medical school, in Liberia where he is right now. He has incredible skills as a physician and is really excellent at the bedside with patients.’’
SIM President Bruce Johnson said in the press conference Tuesday morning that Dr. Sacra’s symptoms began on Friday evening when he developed a fever. On Monday, September 1, staff ran the Ebola test. When that test came back positive later that day, Dr. Sacra moved himself to the Ebola unit.
“He’s courageous. Doctors have a privilege of being able to care for people in their greatest time of need,’’ said Dr. Van Duyne. “With that privilege comes great responsibility, and I think he really takes that seriously. I’m scared, I’m sad, but I also know that I’m trusting that he’s in good care. The people in Liberia he’s been mentoring are now caring for him, so that says some amazing things.’’
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no updates on whether Dr. Sacra will be transferred to be treated in Massachusetts.
“As across the country, Boston area hospitals are well prepared to treat suspect or confirmed cases of Ebola,’’ said McKenzie Ridings, speaking on behalf of the Boston Public Health Commission on whether Dr. Sacra will be transferred for care in Boston. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Rick Sacra and his family, and we wish him a full recovery. At this time we are not aware of plans to transfer patients to Boston.’’