Ebola tops health news, local and worldwide, in 2014
Posted January 2, 2015
WRAL Health Team physician Dr. Allen Mask and producer Rick Armstrong compiled some of the top Health Team stories of the year.
In spring 2014, UNC critical care physician Dr. Billy Fischer was in Switzerland to plan strategies for outbreaks of the flu in China, MERS virus in the Middle East and Ebola in west Africa. He eventually helped Ebola patients in Guinea.
World Health Organization officials asked Fischer to serve in the midst of the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever in Guinea, which borders Sierra Leone and Liberia. It’s an area where 330 people reportedly died from Ebola in one week.
"That was a different conversation with my wife than telling her I was going to Geneva to work on respiratory viruses," Fischer said.
Ebola was still a distant concern in the U.S. until Liberian Thomas Duncan arrived at a Texas hospital with advanced Ebola symptoms in early October and later died. That case spurred local hospitals like WakeMed and EMS personnel to develop protocols and train staff with protective gear.
"It really helps to calm everybody, because they know what to do in a situation," said WakeMed's executive director of emergency services, Barb Bisset.
No actual Ebola cases have yet appeared in North Carolina. However, by Oct. 6, children in the state had died from enterovirus D68. Harnett County 2-month-old Sophie Murchison had been fighting the respiratory illness.
Her mother, Brandy, thought she had a cold. Then things quickly worsened. Sophie was taken to Moore Regional Hospital, then airlifted to WakeMed.
Duke physicians used a portable heart and lung machine called ECMO, designed by Duke's Dr. Ira Cheifetz, to save Sophie's life.
At least one medical advance in 2014 gave us hope that any problem could be conquered. 66 year old Larry Hester's Retinitis Pigmentosa had robbed him of sight.
"I was diagnosed here at Duke Eye Center 33 years ago," Hester said.
That's also where he received a new implant called Second Sight, with electrodes inside one eye linked wirelessly to a camera on special glasses and a small processor worn outside. A few weeks after surgery, it was turned on. He can see limited high contrast images, like a full moon.