3-Year-Old Ebola Survivor Proposes To Nurse

3-Year-Old Ebola Survivor Proposes To Nurse

6:28pm Oct 22, 2014
After beating Ebola, young Ibrahim celebrated by proposing to his nurse.
After beating Ebola, young Ibrahim celebrated by proposing to his nurse.
Anders Kelto / NPR
  • After beating Ebola, young Ibrahim celebrated by proposing to his nurse.

    After beating Ebola, young Ibrahim celebrated by proposing to his nurse.

    Anders Kelto / NPR

  • The young groom chats with Dr. Lewis Rubinson of the World Health Organization and the University of Maryland Medical Center.

    The young groom chats with Dr. Lewis Rubinson of the World Health Organization and the University of Maryland Medical Center.

    Anders Kelto / NPR

Isata Kallon, a nurse at Kenema Hospital in eastern Sierra Leone, remembers the day 3-year-old Ibrahim showed up at the Ebola treatment center. He was with his mother and two older brothers, ages 5 and 8. They all had Ebola. Ibrahim was especially sick, vomiting constantly.

"The chance of survival was very low for him," says Kallon, who's in her 30s. She sits at a picnic table outside the Ebola ward, her hair pulled back with a hairband and her blue nursing scrubs tinged with sweat around the neck.

She spent much of the next week caring for the family, along with dozens of other patients in the makeshift Ebola ward — a large white tent near a sloping hill outside the hospital. Each time she entered the unit, she would find Ibrahim in a different place.

The young groom chats with Dr. Lewis Rubinson of the World Health Organization and the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The young groom chats with Dr. Lewis Rubinson of the World Health Organization and the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Anders Kelto/NPR

"I [mostly found] him lying on the beds of other patients," she said. She wasn't sure if he was lonely or confused, but she had trouble keeping him in his own bed. "So every time, I had to take him, give him a bath and dress him up and put him back [on his own mattress]," she said.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim's mother's health began to worsen. She began vomiting heavily and had severe diarrhea. Then, roughly seven days after the family had first arrived, she passed away. Ibrahim and his brothers were still alive in their beds, just a few feet away.

After their mother's body was incinerated, the boys began to recover. Ibrahim, in particular, rebounded strongly. Two weeks later, they were declared Ebola-free and were discharged from the Ebola ward. They were temporarily moved to another building within the hospital, where a group of roughly 30 Ebola survivors are living as they wait to go home.

The boys' father, who did not contract the disease, lives in a town called Port Loko, 170 miles away. He knows they are alive but has not been able to make the trip to bring them home, in part because public transportation across the country has been shut down or severely limited due to the Ebola outbreak.

So, in the meantime, the boys are being fed and looked after by other survivors — including parents who have lost children — and the nurses, including Kallon.

Perhaps because his mother is no longer around, 3-year-old Ibrahim has developed a strong attachment to Kallon.

He comes to the nursing station frequently. She often has to send him back because she's busy.

To Kallon's surprise, Ibrahim made a very bold statement one day.

"He said he wants me to be his wife," Kallon says, laughing.

Her response?

"I accepted!" she says, smiling.

Now, Kallon says young Ibrahim waves to her whenever he sees her. "When I'm passing, he calls to me and he goes like this," she says, blowing a kiss into the air.

The director of the hospital says Ibrahim and his brothers will soon be transported home, free of charge, because their father has been unable to retrieve them. Kallon says she's happy the boys will be reunited with their father. But she admits that she and the other nurses will miss having them around. They lighten the mood in a workplace that often feels bleak.

Ibrahim, in particular, is a ray of light, Kallon says. "I'm going to miss his presence, because he's my husband now."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Working in an Ebola ward takes an emotional toll. Doctors and nurses often grow close to the people they look after, only to see them die. Caregivers also develop special bonds with patients who survive. We have a story of one nurse in Sierra Leone and her patient, a 3-year-old boy. Here's NPR's Anders Kelto.

ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: Nurse Isata Kallon remembers the day when 3-year-old Ibrahim arrived at her Ebola ward in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. He was with his mom and two older brothers, ages 5 and 8. She says they were all sick, and little Ibrahim was vomiting constantly.

ISATA KALLON: He was very ill - wasn't even thinking that he was going to survive.

KELTO: Kallon spent much of the next week caring for the family inside the Ebola ward, which is basically a big white tent outside the main hospital. And when she would go into the ward, she would always find young Ibrahim in a different place.

KALLON: Sometimes we meet him lying down on the sheets of other patients.

KELTO: He would just climb into bed with other patients?

KALLON: Yes, so I have to take him, give him a bath, change him.

KELTO: Put him back in his bed?

KALLON: Yes.

KELTO: Meanwhile, his mother's health started getting worse. She began to lose a lot of fluids. Then, one day, the nurses found her dead. Ibrahim and his brothers were alive in their beds just a few feet away. Kallon continued to care for the boys in the coming days, and they slowly got better. Then, roughly three weeks after they were first admitted, the boys were declared Ebola free.

KALLON: Now, we thank God our efforts did not went in vain.

KELTO: Their dad didn't get sick and is still alive, but he lives 130 miles away and hasn't been able to pick the boys up. So they've just been staying here at the hospital. Nurse Kallon says little Ibrahim, the three-year-old, has gotten kind of attached to her. He often comes by the nursing station to say hi.

KALLON: He call, (Foreign language spoken). (Laughter) Make like this to me.

KELTO: He blows a kiss to you?

KALLON: Yeah.

KELTO: Then, not too long ago, young Ibrahim began making a rather bold statement to Kallon, who's in her 30's.

KALLON: He wants me to be his wife.

KELTO: He wants you to be his wife?

KALLON: Yes.

KELTO: What do you say when he says he wants you to be his wife?

KALLON: I accepted. (Laughter).

KELTO: Congratulations.

She walks me over to the building where Ibrahim and his brothers are staying. It's an old abandoned wing of the hospital with metal bars over the windows. About 30 other Ebola survivors are living here, also waiting to go home. And standing outside is a young boy, in nothing but flip-flops and a black blazer.

What's your name?

IBRAHIM: Ibrahim.

KELTO: Ibrahim? My translator helps me ask Ibrahim the next question. I point at the nurse, Kallon.

And who is this?

IBRAHIM: (Through translator) She's my wife.

KELTO: Ibrahim doesn't have much else to say after that, so he just goes back to playing with his brothers. The hospital says the boys will soon be transported home to their dad. Nurse Kallon says she's happy they'll be reunited, but she admits it'll be kind of hard to see little Ibrahim go.

KALLON: I'm going to miss his presence because he's my husband now (laughter).

KELTO: Anders Kelto, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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