Called for Life is the title of the book just out recounting the experiences of the first American physician to be treated successfully for Ebola in the United States (see publication details below). The February 3, 2015, blog entry on this site indicated that Dr. Brantly and his wife, Amber, had contracted for a book to demonstrate, in addition to their experiences with the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, the need for support for programs for the people in West Africa facing the challenges of Ebola and similar diseases. The book has now been published by Waterbrook Press.

Dr. Brantly was the first recipient of the annual CEPA award for ethical communication this past March, presented at Butler University as part of the College of Communication Symposium on Servant Leadership. The CEPA award (now known as the Bill Neher Award for Ethical Communication) honors premier examples of effective and ethical oral, written, or mediated communication on issues of significant public interest. The Brantly’s book is intended to continue their effort at bringing before the public the challenges presented by this disease outbreak and the continuing public health needs of poorer nations in general.

The subtitle of the book, “How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic,” emphasizes that the Brantlys responded to a mission call to serve the people of Liberia, both their medical and spiritual needs. As the main title highlights, they feel that calling is “for life.” They alternate telling their story each from their own point of view—so that we see the perspectives of both Kent and Amber from the development of their early relationship, through marriage and beginnings of family life, and their move to the capital of Liberia. Of course, much of the book focuses on their perspectives on and experiences of Kent’s illness, treatment, and eventual recovery.

Kent recounts how he had difficulty deciding on a major at Abilene Christian University. He had grown up in Indianapolis, where his father was a physician, and had attended Heritage Christian School there. He started out to be a math teacher and coach, but after a semester in England where he was influenced by a philosophy professor who accompanied the Abilene students, he began to focus on Biblical Studies. While on a study internship in East Africa, he turned more and more toward the calling of a medical missionary, leading him to medical school at Indiana University. Amber had always wanted to be a nurse, so her career choice was less circuitous. Her father had been a preacher in a small Colorado town. Both felt motivated by an overwhelming sense of compassion in the need to be of service to others, such as the people of Liberia.

The couple moved to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in 2014, where Kent was associated with the hospital complex known as ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), part of the SIM (Serving in Mission) organization. Kent describes the challenges of dealing with severe disease outbreaks in a poor country—for example, lacking ambulance service, patients are often transported to a hospital by taxi, a serious problem when dealing with a contagious outbreak such as Ebola, since family members and the driver were directly exposed to infection. Although the disease is not easily transmitted in the early stages, as the illness progresses any fluids from the patient are highly infectious. For that reason, health care workers are at special risk, since they work with patients in which the disease is full-blown. Hospital staffs, as at ELWA, were often devastated by the infection as a result. Kent and fellow SIM missionary, Nancy Writebol, thus both acquired Ebola.

A key message of the book lies in Kent’s emphasis on “saying yes” to people, in the sense of being fully present and showing unreserved compassion for others. This stance calls for responding to the authentic and deeply felt needs and aspirations of each person, especially those being treated medically. Kent registers the importance of recognizing the distinction between the medical and the spiritual needs of his patients in carrying out his professional duties. He presents us with his belief that it is wrong for a doctor to use his or her power as a physician to impose a religious or other point of view on the patient during such treatment of a condition of the treatment. One can share the motivation for becoming a medical missionary with patients if they—the patients—first evince such an interest. The doctor should then be free to discuss his religious convictions. The Brantly’s mission to Liberia was sponsored by the organization Samaritan’s Purse. This organization is based in North Carolina, and its CEO is Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist, Billy Graham. There was some criticism of this organization back in March of 2001, according to the New York Times, related to a charge that medical or other services to patients in El Salvador seemed to be contingent on attending a religious presentation or service. Dr. Brantly is clear on his commitment to the separation of medical treatment and religious or other kinds of proselytization.

On another potential issue of ethical communication, he is also clear. He realizes that there seemed to be the impression here in the US that he declined the first course of the experimental treatment, known as zMapp, which appears to have been efficacious in treating both him and his fellow health care worker who was stricken with Ebola at the same time. The decision was exclusively a medical decision made by the entire medical team in Monrovia, he points out, and not a heroically sacrificial decision on his part. In the event, the three initial doses were divided between the two with Dr. Brantly receiving the first dose after all. The treatment advisers in Liberia and in the US felt that they would both be in Atlanta in time for each to receive the balance of the course of treatment.

Both Kent and Amber believe that the publication of their book provides for a major platform to continue to send the message that the people of Liberia are still in great need. They also hope that more and more Americans will come to understand that the people of West Africa face overwhelming needs in public health. Called for Life appears to enhance their continuing communication of this need and their mission.

Some may wonder why a third author is credited on the cover—David Thomas. He is what is known in publishing as a co-writer. There are many demands on the time and energy of both the Brantlys, and that fact no doubt led to the decision to bring in Mr. Thomas. Based in Fort Worth, the home city of Kent and Amber, he has collaborated on eight other books, usually with sports figures, such as Bobby Richardson from the Yankees, or other prominent figures. It can be assumed that his assistance was important in bringing the book to publication in as short a time as possible.

Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, by Kent Brantly, Amber Brantly, and David Thomas, published July 21, 2015. WaterBrook Multomah, of Colorado Springs (division of Penquin Random House). Available in hard cover, Kindle version, and audio CD.

William W. Neher
Bill Neher

Bill Neher is professor emeritus of communication studies at Butler University, where he taught for 42 years. Over those years he has served as Dean of the University College, Director of the Honors Program, Head of the Department of Communication Studies, the Chair of the faculty governance, and most recently as the first Dean (Interim) for the new College of Communication begun in June 2010. He is the author of several books dealing with organizational and professional communication, ethics, and African studies, plus several public speaking and communication text books.


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