Indiana doctor saw start of Ebola crisis on trip

Dr. Josh Mugele
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An Indiana doctor is back from a trip to Africa, where he witnessed the Ebola outbreak firsthand.

Dr. Josh Mugele sees trauma and illness in the emergency room at IU Health Methodist Hospital. He's trained for disasters like Katrina and 9/11, providing medical care in the rubble.

But a trip to Liberia last month exposed him to a new crisis.

"It's dangerous and it's scary," he said.

He's just back from JFK Hospital in Liberia, which is seeing a spike in Ebola cases. He was there for research, then, "the first Monrovia patient came to another hospital and we actually got the first patient at JFK. This wasn't at all part of our plan."

It was a real crisis. Dr. Mugele wasn't giving hands-on care, but used his training to help stop the spread.

"Help limit access to the hospital and start screening patients as they were coming in," the doctor said. "So if people were exhibiting signs of Ebola, we could get them to the place where they could be isolated and get treatment."

Isolation is critical. That includes protective gear to keep health workers from contacting the victim's bodily fluids. But Mugele says "there's just a huge shortage of basic things like soap and gloves."

Mugele did not meet IU-trained Dr. Kent Brantly, who is fighting to recover from Ebola in Liberia. He did know Dr. Samuel Brisbane.

"I learned after I came back he contracted Ebola and died this weekend. He was a very close friend to us. It's hitting us on a personal level and it's hitting us very hard," Mugele said.

In all the cases he saw last month, all the patients died.

Then this week, there was a scare when a North Carolina hospital locked down for a possible Ebola patient. It was not Ebola.

Mugele says the U.S. can deal with the threat. We have more protective gear, training, cleaning procedures and better support for patients, too, like hydration.

But what is it that drives medical professionals, like firefighters, to run toward the flames and not away?

"It weighs on your conscience. It's hard not to be able to do something about it if you have the ability, if you have the resources," Mugele said.