Courage gets B.C. face in Ebola fighter Patrice Gordon

Nurse has no regrets, considering return to West Africa

B.C. nurse practitioner Patrice Gordon

B.C. Ebola fighter Patrice Gordon’s hospitalization this week after coming down with a fever has put a B.C. face on the army of medical heroes battling the killer disease in West Africa.

The Rossland nurse practitioner was released from an isolation unit at Kelowna General Hospital Thursday after three tests for Ebola came back negative.

She returned Christmas Day from four weeks in Sierra Leone and drove to hospital Dec. 29 – part way into her three-week period of self-quarantine at a Kelowna hotel – after developing symptoms now thought to be merely a severe cold.

Gordon spoke out Friday after finding herself in a media spotlight, saying she hopes more B.C. volunteers help fight the epidemic and that they can return home to face less stigma and fear than she did.

“Don’t be afraid of us when we come home,” she told reporters by phone, insisting medical workers like herself and designated hospitals are well prepared to prevent spread of the disease. “If I had it, it would have ended with me.”

Gordon’s Christmas Day arrival was a lonely one – nobody met her at the airport and she went straight to a hotel room to begin her isolation.

“I would have loved to have somebody come and give me a hug. But I certainly wasn’t about to broadcast that I had just been in one of the countries affected by Ebola because I didn’t know what kind of reaction I was going to get.”

Related: UN tally of Ebola-linked deaths tops 8,000 for 2014 (The Canadian Press)

Gordon previously worked overseas in Afghanistan and signed up with the Canadian Red Cross prior to the Ebola outbreak. She trained on procedures in Spain before going to an Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone on Nov. 21.

“The pull for me to be able to go and use my skills and try to make a difference there was huge,” she said.

Her three adult sons were “not impressed” with her decision to go on the mission in the first place and were “very worried” to learn she was in hospital being tested for Ebola.

But Gordon says she has no regrets, despite sweat-soaked work and having her “heart broken 10 million times” as victims young and old perished.

“I would not change a thing, except to make Ebola go away,” she said. “This is how we make the world a better place – we go and do what we can.”

PHOTO: Patrice Gordon caring for a one-month-old baby girl who tested positive for Ebola. (redcross.ca)

Seven others from B.C. are now self-monitoring for symptoms during their own 21-day Ebola incubation periods and nine previous volunteers have undergone the three-week wait and been cleared.

All shared in an unexpected honour – Time Magazine’s declaration of Ebola fighters as its Person of the Year.

“They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved,” Time’s Nancy Gibbs wrote, citing their “tireless acts of courage and mercy” that helped buy the world time to boost its defenses.

“The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight.”

Gordon and other Red Cross workers celebrated in Sierra Leone when they heard the news but she immediately used it the next day to try to boost the spirits of their Ebola patients.

“The entire world is pulling for you guys,” she recounted telling the stricken Africans, who she insists are the “real heroes” fighting the disease.

A possible return to the Ebola battlefield of West Africa has already crossed her mind, even though the B.C. nurse remains under hotel room lockdown until she’s deemed safe from the disease on Jan. 14.

“My family’s going to kill me,” Gordon said. “But they know me well enough to know that I would already be contemplating going back.”