Nurse returns from helping Ebola battle
PUBLISHED: 10:00 18 January 2015
SAYING goodbye to your family for six weeks is never easy, but one man did just that in order to help fight a deadly infectious disease on another continent.
Malcolm Chalk has just returned from Sierra Leone, where he used his healthcare skills to help Ebola victims.
Ebola has claimed an estimated 7,000 lives during the current African epidemic, making it the largest outbreak since the virus was discovered 40 years ago.
NHS nurse Pauline Cafferkey, from Glasgow, was diagnosed with Ebola in December after returning from Sierra Leone and was in a critical condition before recovering slightly this week.
Malcolm, aged 57, and his wife Deborah, aged 42, live in Oxford Square in Locking with their three children.
They both work as nurses and are used to helping others, but Malcolm felt he had more to give.
He said: “It is something I have always wanted to do, some kind of humanitarian work. I’ve had the idea for a long time, since I qualified, I thought I should do something to help people less fortunate.
“At first I was looking at going to help out in Gaza, but that was when the Ebola crisis was kicking off.
“The Department for International Development asked if I would be prepared to do that instead, to go help the Ebola victims, and I said yes.
“We went out with 26 other people but then we were split up. Nineteen went to work in the International Medical Centre which is an American charity.
“And then we went with Save The Children in Kerry Town – the one that’s been on the news.”
Malcolm signed up through a charity called UK Med on behalf of the Department for International Development, and was stationed in an 80-bed treatment centre which was designed by the British Army to help manage the crisis.
Despite the ominous news reports and the challenge ahead of him, Malcolm was prepared to help.
He said: “Of course I was worried. The thing with Ebola is it’s a horrendous disease, just awful.
“So I was apprehensive, without a shadow of a doubt. But I went and I did my bit.”
After a week of training in the UK he flew out to Africa with his nursing colleagues. He was part of the second deployment of NHS workers to be sent the disease-stricken continent.
On arrival, Malcolm received a bit more training, learning how to put on his protective clothing, before getting stuck in.
He said: “There were children and adults at the Ebola treatment centre, it was for anybody who comes through the door.
“There were people of all ages, adults, children and grandparents, sometimes whole families. Some were very unwell and unfortunately died.
“It really is awful to see this disease, the bleeding and bruising and diarrhoea, it’s horrendous.
“We managed to get about a 52-53 per cent survival rate, which is very good.”
Part of Malcolm’s job, as well as treating patients, was to work with the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone to help train the doctors and nurses.
He said: “We got to know the staff and we ran teaching sessions in between going into the red zone, where the patients were.
“It is as much about teaching as it was about helping the patients.”
Malcolm arrived safely back into the UK on Sunday after a gruelling 30-hour trip.
He said: “I was looking forward to going home, of course I was, but I was kind of sad to leave the place – you get used to the routine and you know what to do and how to help.
“My family were worried, of course.
“My wife was very supportive but it was very difficult for her, because we’ve got three children and she was on her own for six weeks altogether.
“I felt a bit guilty about that, I must admit. But she managed really well.
“I am glad I did it. I would do something like this again, but not for a while.”
Looking back, Malcolm is able to draw enormous satisfaction from the success stories of some of the individual patients he helped.
He said: “I admitted one woman, aged about 27, two weeks ago. I saw her in, took her blood, put fluids in her – she was really quite unwell. About three days before I left she was up and dancing, saying she was well. We were able to discharge her the next day.
“We thought she wouldn’t make it, but she did.
“Sometimes you go in and you see people who you know really won’t make it, and that’s really quite sad, it’s not very nice to see.
“There is no cure, it’s just down to people rehydrating if they can take it and the rest is up to their immune system.
“Some people get Ebola like a nasty cold, some people are basically at death’s door. It just depends on the immune system.
“Save The Children is doing a cracking job out there and really making a difference, I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”