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Ebola Doc: I Held to Prayer 'Like a Drowning Man'


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HOLDEN, Mass. -- West Africa's Ebola outbreak has killed more than 8,000 people, including close to 500 healthcare workers. The need for medical professionals remains critical and that's why Ebola survivor and veteran missionary Dr. Rick Sacra is back at work at ELWA hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

CBN News spoke with Sacra, 52, at his home in Holden, Massachusetts, prior to his return earlier this month.

Just four months ago, he spent several weeks battling the deadly Ebola virus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He contracted it while volunteering in Liberia at the height of the outbreak.

Sacra and his wife Debbie remember what it felt like as the disease took over.

"I was just focusing on the Lord.  I tell you I hung on to the Lord's Prayer like a drowning man," he told CBN News. "I prayed through that prayer many times a day and just wept through it most of the time."

Debbie Sacra was unable to be at her husband's bedside because of the highly contagious nature of the virus. She remembers reading Scripture with him via Skype.

"You just learn to trust God more deeply," she explained. "You just learn to trust that He's in control and that He's really good."

The Sacras are no strangers to West Africa. They've served as missionaries to Liberia with SIM, the international Christian mission organization, since 1995.

Recently, family circumstances brought them home to Holden. Dr. Sacra has continued to serve, however, traveling back and forth several times a year.

Specially Equipped to Return?

As an Ebola survivor, Sacra believes he's perhaps especially equipped to return. Ebola experts think he's immune now to the deadly virus he once fought.

"They've seen situations in which somebody who had Ebola and survived was then exposed again and, you know, they've never had a case where somebody got sick again. So I think the idea of immunity is pretty well established," Sacra said.

Thomas Curtis is senior pastor at the Sacra's church, Holden Chapel, and a long-time friend and prayer partner. He said watching Sacra battle Ebola this last year helped to grow the congregation's faith and united several area churches in prayer.

He said members at Holden Chapel are excited that Sacra has returned to serve in Libera.

"It wouldn't make sense to us if he didn't because he's not that kind of person," Curtis said. "He's very brave. He's very humble. He's very giving."

Sacra will work for a month at SIM's ELWA Hospital. It became a model for other hospitals in West Africa during the outbreak as staff developed treatment facilties, screening processes, and other critical care medical services even as other facilities were shutting down.

Sacra's timing is strategic as West Africa desperately needs healthcare workers, even as the number of Ebola cases has declined in both Libera and Sierra Leone.

For years, the region has witnessed an exodus of medical professionals eager for better pay and working condtions abroad. That trend, coupled with the deaths of almost 500 healthcare workers during the epidemic, has crippled an already fragile system.

Sacra's vision is to return to Liberia full-time to train a new generation of family medicine doctors, equipped both to practice and to share their faith. The Sacras stand amazed at the platform they received this past year to share theirs.

"God has a way of doing that -- of taking something bad and turning it into something good," Sacra said.

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About The Author


Heather Sells covers wide-ranging stories for CBN News that include religious liberty, ministry trends, immigration, and education. She’s known for telling personal stories that capture the issues of the day, from the border sheriff who rescues migrants in the desert to the parents struggling with a child that identifies as transgender. In the last year, she has reported on immigration at the Texas border, from Washington, D.C., in advance of the Dobbs abortion case, at crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts, and on sexual abuse reform at the annual Southern Baptist meeting in Anaheim