LLU alumni deliver health care at Ebola stricken region

Cooper Adventist Hospital in Liberia remaining open during epidemic

Loma Linda, California, United States | LLU staff

Graduates of Loma Linda University School of Medicine are helping to deliver health care to patients in the midst of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Dr. Gillian Seton, a 2008 graduate of Loma Linda, has served since February at Cooper Adventist Hospital in Liberia as a participant in the university’s Deferred Mission Appointment program. The program, developed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, provides financial support to medical and dental students committed to overseas mission service.

Another physician, Dr. James Appel, a 2000 Loma Linda graduate, is expected to arrive this week in Liberia to provide medical care alongside Seton at Cooper Adventist Hospital. Appel has spent the last decade as a family medicine physician in the north-central African country of Chad.

The General Conference, in collaboration with Adventist Health International based in Loma Linda, has decided to keep Cooper Adventist Hospital open in Liberia in spite of the virus outbreak. The 45-bed hospital and its associated Eye Hospital, is located in the heart of Monrovia, the capital where nearly a third of the country’s 4 million people live. The Republic of Liberia was founded by freed American and Carribean slaves, and declared its independence in 1847.

Many public hospitals in the West African nation and adjacent areas have shut down or are refusing to take on new patients, but the staff and faculty at Cooper made the decision to remain open for treatment of non-Ebola related illnesses. They are continuing to screen patients prior to entering the hospital grounds in order to remain free of the Ebola virus as near as possible, so that they will be a source of help and safety to their patients and staff.

Working as a general surgeon at the hospital, Seton said she believes the need for medical treatment outweighs the dangers involved in staying.

“The most dangerous place to be right now is in a hospital, but what are you to do when you have a patient with an OB emergency? Appendicitis? Severe Malaria with almost un-survivable anemia?” she asked.

Seton said they have not closed the hospital because they’ve seen how desperate people are to get help after they have been turned away from four or five hospitals due to staff-enforced closures.

Dr. Richard H. Hart, president of Adventist Health International and president of Loma Linda University Health, said the agency is continuing to support Cooper’s operations by subsidizing costs and providing supplies for the hospital. He said additional professional staff may be sent to Liberia, and only staff who volunteer to stay are reporting to work.

“I am proud of our staff at Cooper, particularly Gillian and James, who have chosen duty over safety and have chosen to continue providing medical care,” Hart said. He said a special infectious disease unit has now been established at another hospital to care for suspected Ebola patients, providing a critical referral option for Cooper Hospital.

Another Adventist Health International hospital, Waterloo Adventist Hospital in Sierra Leone, is also facing the Ebola crisis. Both Cooper and Waterloo are in need of outside help to pay for additional supplies, equipment, and medical staff.

For more information about the humanitarian response to the crisis, visit ahiglobal.org.