Ebola Puts Nina Pham, a Nurse Unaccustomed to the Spotlight, in Its Glare
DALLAS — Nina Pham spends her days in isolation inside the same hospital where she contracted the Ebola virus working as a critical care nurse. She discusses her care plans with doctors, said a friend who has corresponded with her. She reads, video-chats with her family and keeps in touch with friends through text messages and emails.
“She’s hopeful and just resting,” said the friend, Jennifer Joseph, who until recently worked with Ms. Pham at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. “Not letting the media and all this overwhelm her. She’s just having some time to herself, to be able to read and relax.”
Ms. Joseph called Ms. Pham, 26, a conscientious and careful nurse who double-checked her charts and never seemed to make a mistake, a description that deepens the mystery of how a nurse garbed in gloves, mask and other protective gear contracted the disease from a Liberian man who died last week of Ebola. On Monday, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that Ms. Pham’s positive test for Ebola over the weekend had prompted the agency to “substantially” rethink how it approaches infection control for health officials.
Dr. Frieden also apologized for his comments of a day earlier, which he said suggested that the nurse had apparently breached safety protocol. On Monday, Dr. Frieden said he had not meant to give the impression he was blaming Ms. Pham — whom he did not identify by name — for contracting Ebola.
The diagnosis fanned fears among hospital workers and raised questions about how the authorities have been monitoring health care workers like Ms. Pham who treated or came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian Ebola victim.
Officials have said that Ms. Pham felt a low-grade fever overnight Friday, and apparently drove herself to the emergency room at Presbyterian, where she was admitted and put into isolation 90 minutes later. Officials said she was in stable condition.
She received a transfusion of plasma on Monday from the blood of Dr. Kent Brantly of Fort Worth, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and recovered from the disease.Ms. Pham was the third Ebola patient to receive a transfusion from Dr. Brantly. “The hospital asked Dr. Brantly if he would be willing to donate his plasma again, and of course he said yes,” said Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse, the relief organization that Dr. Brantly worked for in West Africa.
Doctors hope that antibodies in the blood of an Ebola victim may help fight the virus. Dr. Brantly also donated plasma to Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman being treated at Nebraska Medical Center, and to Dr. Rick Sacra, an American who was treated there in September. It is not clear whether the transfusions have been effective. Dr. Brantly could not donate to Mr. Duncan because they were not a blood type match, the hospital and Mr. Blume said. OPEN GRAPHIC
Since local officials announced Ms. Pham’s positive test early on Sunday, the news has resonated through circles of friends who worked with Ms. Pham or studied nursing with her at Texas Christian University, and through the Vietnamese community in Fort Worth, where she grew up. In interviews and news reports, friends have described her as a compassionate and caring nurse who loved her job, was grounded by her Catholic faith and cherished her King Charles spaniel, Bentley, named for her old neighborhood.
A Dallas city spokeswoman has said that the city would care for Ms. Pham’s dog.
In photos from friends and family and her now-deactivated Facebook account, Ms. Pham is invariably smiling — posing with a friend on a trip to Boston, sitting outside at a cafe or taking a selfie while her dog nuzzles her.
“She’s able to make friends in any setting, any scenario,” Ms. Joseph said. “She has a contagious laugh.”
The daughter of political refugees from Vietnam, she grew up in the Bentley Village subdivision of Fort Worth, in a large red-brick home that her family built in the mid-1990s, said a next-door neighbor, Jim Maness. Neighbors said that the family was exceedingly private and quiet.
Ms. Pham attended the accelerated nursing program at Texas Christian in Fort Worth, and graduated in 2010. Ashlee Mitchell said she bonded almost instantly with Ms. Pham in classes there. Not long after they met, she said, “we were best friends.” OPEN GRAPHIC
Ms. Pham and her family were active at Our Lady of Fatima, a largely Vietnamese Roman Catholic church, said Tom Ha, the church’s education director. Because the family prizes its privacy, he said, congregants are meeting in small groups, rather than large gatherings, to pray for Ms. Pham. Christina Mykhanh Hoang, a church member, said Ms. Pham’s mother had simply asked friends “to continue to pray.”
Mr. Ha said Ms. Pham’s family had not been overly worried about her risk of exposure at Presbyterian, and had been stunned by the news. Her family could not be reached for comment.
“They did not have a concern when the daughter was working with the patient of Ebola,” Mr. Ha said. “Once they got the news that their daughter caught it, the family was totally shocked. Many Vietnamese-Americans do not know much about the disease. They really don’t have a concrete idea of what it is, so people are very confused about it.”
Ms. Mitchell, Ms. Pham’s college friend, said the two spoke only fleetingly about her work at what has become the center of Ebola in the United States. Mr. Duncan was treated on Ms. Pham’s unit, Ms. Mitchell said in a brief telephone interview on Sunday, but Ms. Pham had said that only “at one point in time did she have him.”
The two friends tried to steer their conversations toward happier subjects. “When we talk, we try not to talk about work,” said Ms. Mitchell, who lives in Colorado. “We didn’t talk about the Ebola incident.”
To Ms. Joseph, Ms. Pham is both a great nurse and great friend. She said Ms. Pham helped her get oriented at Presbyterian, and during their 12-hour shifts together taught her “how to become the nurse I am today.” Frequently, when thinking about a patient, Ms. Pham would ask herself, “What would I do if this was my mom, dad or grandparent?” Ms. Joseph said.
She said she feels confident that Ms. Pham is getting the best treatment possible and will pull through, and said her work treating a man infected with a deadly disease that has spread fear across this city exemplified her commitment to her profession and compassion for people in need.
“We have heroes that are willing to make sacrifices when no one else will,” Ms. Joseph wrote in an email. “Because I know for a fact that she would take care of him again.”