*Thirteen days after testing positive for Ebola, Nina Pham, the first person to catch the disease on U.S. soil, has been declared free of the deadly virus…clearing the way for President Barack Obama to give her a big symbolic hug in the Oval Office.
Earlier Friday, Pham strode to a bank of microphones outside of a National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda, Maryland to speak to reporters – moments after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said she was free of the virus.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” she said. “Throughout this ordeal, I have put my faith in God and my medical team.”
She also thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick.
But she’s not entirely out of the woods, she said.
“Although I no longer have Ebola, I know that it may be awhile before I have my strength back,” Pham said. “So with gratitude and respect for everyone’s concern, I ask for my privacy and for my family’s privacy to be respected as I return to Texas and try to get back to a normal life and reunite with my dog, Bentley.”
Bentley, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, remains in quarantine until the end of the month in Texas, but Pham “will be able to visit, hold and play with him tomorrow,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Friday.
“I know that will be good for both of them,” said Jenkins, who oversees the Ebola response in Dallas.
Pham, 26, who grew up in a Vietnamese family in Fort Worth, Texas, graduated with a nursing degree in 2010 and just months ago received a certification in critical care nursing, which deals with life-threatening problems.
The Ebola experience, she said, was a “very stressful and challenging” time for her.
Without direct reference to the continent, she alluded to how Ebola has ravaged West Africa in an unprecedented outbreak that the World Health Organization says has caused almost 10,000 confirmed or probable cases of infection and 4,877 deaths as of this week.
“I am on my way back to recovery even as I reflect on how many others have not been so fortunate,” she said.
Pham was among the doctors and nurses in Dallas who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. His diagnosis came after he returned from a trip to West Africa, and he died on October 8.
Three days later, Pham tested positive for the Ebola virus, becoming the first person in the United States to contract Ebola on American soil. That sent waves of anxiety through the network of health care workers — and beyond.
Those anxieties deepened on October 15 when a second nurse in Dallas, Amber Vinson, tested positive for Ebola. Vinson had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back, prompting an airline to warn passengers on both legs of her trip as well as passengers who took subsequent flights on an aircraft she used. Some schools closed. Health departments monitored dozens of people.
None of them has tested positive for Ebola.
Pham said Friday that her thoughts are with Vinson, who is getting treatment for Ebola at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
Vinson is steadily regaining her strength, and her spirits are high, her family has said. Doctors can no longer detect the virus in her body, but they have not yet determined when she will be discharged, the hospital in Atlanta said Friday.