Sheffield GP tells of experiences on Ebola frontline

A Sheffield GP who spent five weeks on the frontline of the fight against Ebola has spoken of his extraordinary experiences in Sierra Leone.

Dr Charles Heatley flew out to Sierra Leone in late November and was plunged straight into the desperate battle to save lives of adults and children struck down by the deadly virus, which has claimed almost 9,000 lives.

The medic, aged 53, who works at Birley Health Centre, said he was inspired to get involved with the relief efforts after hearing about an appeal for volunteers by the Department for International Development.

He said he was determined to play his part in stopping the Ebola outbreak spreading further and his family had backed his decision to go out there, despite the risks.

Dr Heatley arrived in Sierra Leone on November 22 and was based at the Kerry Town Ebola Treatment Centre, where doctors were responsible for people with confirmed cases of Ebola – many of whom were close to death.

In searing temperatures that could reach up to 38C, doctors had to put on layers of specialist equipment before treating patient to keep themselves safe from infection.

Dr Heatley said the need for protective clothing and the extreme heat made the job of caring for suffering patients highly challenging.

He said: “It was incredibly difficult to do the most basic care. If you only had an hour, you had to plan out so carefully what you were going to do beforehand.

“I was treating everything from relatively minor illnesses to people who were dying with dreadful diarrhoea and vomiting.”

He said that the protective suits meant the usual rapport a doctor would have with a patient was taken away.

“You can’t engage with people in the same way when they are very ill and you are behind two masks. You didn’t make the same level of connection.

“But I was affected, particularly seeing children die.

“On the other hand, to see some children who were very sick get better was incredibly rewarding.”

And the efforts of Dr Heatley and his peers in fighting Ebola appear to be paying off.

For the first time since June, the World Health Organisation said last week there were less than 100 new confirmed cases across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.