OMAHA, Neb. - An American video journalist who recovered from Ebola at an Omaha hospital left the facility Wednesday afternoon and is heading home to Rhode Island, a hospital spokesman said.
Ashoka Mukpo, who contracted the virus while working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC and other media outlets, was released from the Nebraska Medical Center's biocontainment unit around 9 a.m. He spent several hours meeting with staff members who treated him and left the hospital complex in the afternoon, spokesman Taylor Wilson said.
Wilson told The Associated Press that Mukpo, 33, would fly to Rhode Island on Wednesday evening but he was unable to provide details about those travel plans.
Hospital officials said Tuesday that Mukpo's blood had tested negative for the Ebola virus.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, the University of Nebraska Medical Center chancellor, read a statement earlier Wednesday in which Mukpo expressed his thanks to the Nebraska hospital medical staff.
"After enduring weeks where it was unclear whether I would survive, I'm walking out of the hospital on my own power, free from Ebola," Mukpo said in the statement.
He also joked about the nurses introducing him while he was in isolation to the Runza sandwich — a regional favourite involving hamburger, cabbage and onion baked inside the bread.
The journalist arrived at the hospital Oct. 6 and was the second Ebola patient to be treated there. The first, 51-year-old Dr. Rick Sacra, has also recovered.
In his statement, Mukpo thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, who provided blood for a transfusion. Brantly, who caught Ebola while caring for patients in Africa and was treated in Atlanta, also donated blood to Sacra. Such transfusions are believed to help Ebola patients because antibodies in the blood of a survivor can help fight off the virus.
Mukpo also received IV fluids, similar to Sacra's treatment. But Mukpo received an experimental Ebola drug called brincidofovir that was different from an experimental drug given to Sacra. Asked if that difference is why Mukpo spent less time in the Nebraska isolation unit than Sacra, one doctor noted that Mukpo's age likely played a role.
"He's about 20 years younger than Dr. Sacra," said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit. "It might have also had something to do with the amount of virus he had in his system. But I think his age was a big factor."
Mukpo said he plans to write about his experience.
"I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care," he said in the statement.
Separately, NBC announced that its medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman, has ended her 21-day quarantine period Wednesday and is healthy. The voluntary quarantine for Snyderman and her colleagues who reported from Liberia with Mukpo was made mandatory by health authorities when some of them were spotted getting takeout food.
NBC News President Deborah Turness said Snyderman has been encouraged to take time off and won't return to work until next month. Some critics have called for her firing given the quarantine lapse.
Turness did not say whether Snyderman would return to covering Ebola.