Local nurse heads to Liberia to battle Ebola virus (July 11, 2014)

Written by Mike Robinson

Published by Wellington Advertiser on Friday, July 11, 2014

Fergus resident Dorothy McEachern is going to the west African nation of Liberia to help Samaritan’s Purse Canada fight the most serious Ebola virus outbreak in history. More than 450 people have died from the virus since February. 

In a telephone interview with the Wellington Advertiser, McEachern explained that she works as a nurse in the operating room at Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus and worked at Guelph General prior to that.

She also works with the Grand River Family Physicians one day per week.

McEachern who helped Samaritan’s Purse battle the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti, leaves shortly for a three-week mission in Liberia.

She will join Samaritan’s Purse staff already on the ground (including two medical professionals from British Columbia) to work with the Liberian government, the United Nations, and other relief organizations to provide clinical care to those infected with Ebola.

Samaritan’s Purse also has aircraft in Liberia to support this emergency effort and has been sending medical equipment and supplies, including protective clothing and medication.

The Ebola threat originally surfaced in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone last February and March, resulting in dozens of deaths.

The outbreak appeared to be under control by May before returning with a vengeance in early June.

It is a contagious disease that causes massive internal bleeding and has a mortality rate of between 60 and 90 per cent. This is the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Samaritan’s Purse’s earlier response to the Ebola outbreak included a national awareness campaign that began in March and has reached more than 370,000 people and 170 churches with prevention education.  

McEachern, a 15-year Fergus resident, said the idea began following a trip to China where she taught English for four years.

“While I was there, there was a major  earthquake.”

From there, she saw the need.

“Nursing is my profession and it’s about helping.”

McEachern first began googling mission trips to China which is how she got involved with the Canadian Medical Assistance Team. She thought her smattering of Mandarin would be of assistance.

Her first mission was with the Canadian Medical Assistance Team which had sought out nurses to help out following an earthquake in Haiti.

McEachern responded to the call and from there to assist in other missions such as the current one through Samaritan’s Purse.

Now McEachern is a member of that group’s DART team (Disaster Assistance Relief Team).

“They call me about anything going on and ask how early I can deploy.”

Her response is generally two to three days.

McEachern pointed out her employers have been supportive.

“I have operating room skills, so this is a good use of the skills I have.”

That held especially true for her work with Education, Medical Aid and Service (EMAS) Canada, a Christian charitable organization which partners with organizations overseas to perform surgeries for cleft lip, palates and burns to people who cannot afford medical care.

She said the upcoming trip will involve a lot of palliative care.

For her, part of that involves reading over the World Health Organization’s package on psychological first aid.

Part of that includes helping people who are in shock and traumatized.

Many of her friends don’t even know about the upcoming mission.

McEachern is modest about her own involvement.

She considers the more important aspect is that “local people are involved - and this is not just something which is over there.”

She commented that some of the nurses she works with think she’s crazy for going overseas.

“But I ask myself, who else is going to go?”

She adds, “this is a professional organization and they are going to take care of me.”

Her big concern right now will be dealing with the heat.

“I’m going to be covered in plastic from head to foot with the specialized (protective) gown,” she explained, noting that Ebola is a highly contagious disease.

While typically, a person is only to be in such attire for an hour or two, McEachern said “There’s no guarantee how long we’ll be in them.”

“That will be the challenge ... as well as psychological.”

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

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