Victoria doctor off to aid Ebola victims in West Africa (July 4, 2014)

Written by Sandra McCulloch

Published by Times Colonist on Friday, July 4, 2014

A Victoria doctor has left his Victoria practice behind, temporarily, to help victims of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Dr. Azaria Marthyman, 48, said he feels a need to help despite the obvious risks to himself. He and registered nurse Karen Daniels of Vancouver are part of a 14-member contingent headed to Liberia.

The family physician, who moved to Canada from Indonesia when he was a doctor with the Canadian Forces, is aware of the health and economic challenges faced by people around the world.

“I always maintained an international exposure. … Plus I have an adventurous spirit,” said Marthyman, who expects to be in Africa for the month of July.

It’s not the first time he has gone out of his way to help. As a medical specialist working for Samaritan’s Purse Canada, an international Christian relief and development organization, Marthyman went to the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and Haiti in 2010 following a cholera outbreak.

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease originated in Guinea in February, then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to the World Health Organization, 467 people had died of the disease as of June 30, making this the deadliest Ebola outbreak since the virus first appeared in 1976.

While abroad, Marthyman works as a volunteer with basic travel costs covered by the NGO. The doctors at his clinic here, Admirals Medical Clinic, cover for him during his journeys abroad, and Marthyman said he’s blessed with a supportive family, including his “awesome” wife and seven children.

Three of his children were adopted from Liberia, “so there’s a real strong connection to the area,” he said.

He worries about the risk of getting infected with the deadly viruses, but said his training helps him cope.

“People like me have had exposure and experiences, and are more able to handle harsher climates,” he said.

He doesn’t know what to expect in Africa, but said in previous deployments, he treated 60 or more patients a day, many of whom were deathly ill.

Treatment for Ebola mostly involves supportive measures because there is no known cure, and the death rate is up to 90 per cent. The virus destroys its victims’ immune systems and causes internal and external bleeding.

Doctors aren’t immune from the overwhelming sadness that surrounds such an outbreak, he said, adding that it’s gruelling, intense and often emotional work.

“We all feel, we cry, just like anybody else … but at the same time, we are professionals,” Marthyman said. “We have an awesome team approach to critical stress debriefing — we do debriefing sessions with each other. There’s a need for us to care for ourselves.”

Aside from the satisfaction of being able to help, the trips abroad make Marthyman grateful that he lives in Canada.

“I’m thankful that we in Canada have such a wonderful life,” he said. “I’m very proud to be Canadian. We’ve very generous and we give a lot to the world around us.”

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

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