Dr Adaora Okoli literally saved her own life.
She was struck down by the deadly disease ebola and her chances of survival were slim.
But now she is being hailed as ‘hero in the field’ by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Bill Gates. Dr Okoli is not only one of the few survivors of the Ebola virus, but is dedicating her life to help fight it.
When she recovered from the disease in 2014 and was able to leave the isolation ward in Lagos, Nigeria, Dr Okoli knew it was her mission to help save others.
Dr Okoli was infected while treating one of the first Nigerian cases of the deadly virus.
At the height of the epidemic more than 11,000 people were killed.
She made headlines when her story emerged in 2014 and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said of her on his blog: ‘Her courage and her optimism are inspiring.’
Dr Okoli has since moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to study epidemiology at Tulane University.
When she graduates in May, the 31-year-old plans to continue her research in infectious diseases.
The brave young woman will eventually return to Nigeria. She plans to educate her fellow doctors on how to effectively treat and understand diseases.
Dr Okoli ordeal began one day in 2014 when she on call at her local hospital.
She was asked to treat a diplomat who was extremely and suffering from diarrhea.
Dr Okoli asked a nurse, who was eight weeks pregnant, to help him to the bathroom and temporarily remove his IV.
But when the nurse went to help him, he got irate and yanked the IV from his hand. ‘The nurse had blood splashing all over her and the sheets,’ Dr Okoli says.
The doctor was immediately concerned, and became more so when the man’s lab results revealed liver abnormalities.
‘That’s one of the organs that Ebola attacks, and I told the nurses I suspected he might be a case of Ebola.’
She instructed the nurse to be careful and to wash her hands and wear gloves.
‘We didn’t have personal protective equipment that was adequate, we just had what we had, and had to do our best and use that.’
It took three days for the World Health Organization to confirm the that the diplomat had Ebola.
The patient became agitated and threatened to leave. Dr Okoli and her colleagues had to convince the man to say or risk putting the entire town of Lagos at risk.
Sadly, three days later, the diplomat was dead, and the hospital was shut down.
That’s when Dr Okoli started to feel sick with a sore throat. She assumed it was stress and treated herself with antibiotics.
Then two days later she got a strange call.
‘He was stumbling, and he said “we’re sorry, there was a mix up, we have to take you to the hospital to take a sample,”‘ Dr Okoli recalls.
She remained calm – even when the health official came to her house and loaded her into an ambulance.
‘I’m sorry, your test was positive, you have Ebola,’ a health official told her.
‘I called my mother, told her to lock my bedroom door from the outside, and that she shouldn’t worry, I don’t know how, but I’m going to survive,’ Dr Okoli says.
She was sealed into an isolation ward with five other female patients.
‘It’s just a matter of let’s see if your immune system can fight this. If it can, “yay,” if it can’t, we’re sorry, but at least you didn’t infect anyone else,’ says Dr Okoli.
At 28 years old, she found herself sitting in the isolation ward.
In the bed next to the pregnant nurse who had had the diplomat’s blood spattered all over her.
‘But I said “I know this is not the end for me,” Dr Okoli says.
She remembered opening the Bible at random three years prior, when her eyes fell on a verse: Jeremiah 29:11.
‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
Dr Okoli used her clinical skills and treated herself as her own patient.
She made it her goal to research Ebola and treat her symptoms.
The dedicated doctor found one of the deadly symptoms she could treat: dehydration.
‘If you can stock up on fluids, you might have a chance before multi-system shut down….because you’re fighting against a virus that is replicating every single second,’ she says.
She carefully monitored her own body – changes in her urine color and the consistency of her nearly constant diarrhea.
She began treating herself with high doses of water.
Finally, she began to get her appetite back and had a craving for bananas.
‘The problem with persistent diarrhea is that you lose a lot of potassium and risk going to cardiac failure, which can lead to death,’ she explains.
Dr Okoli got stronger, and started helping tend to and counsel the other frightened patients on the ward.
Then, by God’s grace, fourteen days later, her blood was ebola-free.
She has since excelled in her studies. She has given birth to a daughter, Valerie, now two, and will graduate in May.
Her plan is to spend a year conducting research on the pattern of epidemics.
She will then leave America for Nigeria to help treat and educate others. Even though she faces contracting another life-threatening disease.
‘My uncle says I’m crazy,’ Dr Okoli told Daily Mail Online.
‘I have fear, but… If I had died in that isolation ward, I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to talk about or consider infectious disease, so I make the most of whatever time I have, to affect path for others.
‘Everyone has a story…something that resonates with them, and whatever you have in your hand…use that to possibly make change that affects more people positively,’ Dr Okoli says.