Glenn interviewed Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse, and Dr Lance Plyler on radio today. Both men were directly involved in helping Dr. Kent Brantly survive after he came down with Ebola while working for Samaritan’s Purse in Africa. How it all went down left everyone giving God the credit.
Glenn: Okay, so when the doctor found out he had Ebola, were you there?
Dr. Plyler: I informed him.
Glenn: What was that like?
Dr. Plyler: It was really one of the most sobering experiences of my life, if not the most. It was horrible.
Glenn: Are you friends with him?
Dr. Plyler: I am, yes.
Glenn: And as we said, pretty much a death sentence. How long…14 days to live? How long do you usually live?
Dr. Plyler: It depends, Glenn, but some people can pass in as quickly as four or five days. Some people will, you know, live after ten days.
Glenn: How much of the time from being diagnosed to death is agony?
Dr. Plyler: Well, a lot of it is, but the last several days are terrible.
Glenn: Can you describe a little bit?
Dr. Plyler: Sure. Ebola really, they’re fluid producers, so it initially starts off a lot like as we’ve described other endemic diseases or even flu, but you quickly develop very high fevers, headache, terrible muscle aches, joint aches, but then they begin to have…really it’s like a gastrointestinal disease. They begin to vomit profusely, uncontrolled diarrhea, and then in advanced stages, as you’ve read, they can have bleeding, significant bleeding.
Glenn: Do organs melt? That’s what I’ve always heard, that your organs melt. Is that true?
Dr. Plyler: I’m not sure I would say that they truly melt, but it truly infects multiple organs. It’s overwhelming sepsis of the body.
Glenn: Okay, so you find out. You get called, and you find out. Was it you that found the serum? Or how did you stumble across the serum?
Franklin: No, I was in Alaska when they called me, Glenn. We thought he might be infected, and it wasn’t until two days later that we got the test back that he was infected. And I called his wife right after Kent had called her to tell her that he was infected. I called her within a couple of minutes, just had prayer with her and to try to comfort her a little bit. And I told her, I said, “Amber, we’re going to try to do everything that we possibly can.” And Glenn, when I hung up the phone, I just thought to myself I have no idea what to do. He’s in Africa. How am I going to get him out of there? I need to get him back for treatment. How in the world are we going to do this?
And Glenn, as a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ, you say I believe that Jesus took my sins to the cross, that he died for my sins, that he was buried for my sins, that God raised him to life, and when I was 22, I gave him my life to take me, to spin me, to use my life however he wanted to use it. And all of my life I’ve just put my faith and trust in him for the day-to-day even, just Lord, get me through today. And when I hung up that phone, I just felt like I didn’t know what to do, and I was at a loss.
Ken Isaacs runs our programs, and I talked to Kenny. I said, “Ken, what are we going to do?” He said, “Franklin, I don’t know.” Well, we had a policy that if you get sick anywhere in the world, a plane will come get you, a policy, you know, insurance. We pay for that.
Glenn: This is a big difference.
Franklin: Well, when they found out that we needed to go to Liberia, they said well what’s this for? Well, we have a doctor who’s sick. Well, what has he got? He has Ebola. We don’t do that. And so the insurance company just right then denied it, and we thought that we had it worked out. We even told Kent that, you know, hey, listen, we think…we’ve got an insurance policy. We’re going to get you home, get you back someplace that can help you.
And I think it was that Tuesday or that Monday or Tuesday we realized that that plane wasn’t going to work out. And I tell you, God moves people, and he moves individuals. There were people in the State Department at levels, and I’m not talking about the leadership, but people that are in the State Department, career diplomats, workers who knew where the levers were and made decisions to help Dr. Brantly, and they just did this on their own. They controlled airplanes.
Glenn: There’s only one airplane that can do this, right?
Franklin: They now have two, just one at the time, and that plane…and here’s another thing, when that plane took off, it had a pressurization problem and had to come back and land. And it was, I think, about 12 or maybe it was 19 hours delayed getting the pressurization problem worked out. If Dr. Brantley had gotten on that plane early, he would have died because he would not have had ZMapp. I think God stopped the airplane and delayed it until the ZMapp, we were able to get…his team could put one dose of ZMapp in it.
Glenn: How much time do I have here? Okay, let me take a break, and then I want you to tell the ZMapp story because this is the serum never, ever been tried on anyone before, brand new, in San Diego, comes from San Diego, right?
Franklin: That’s where the home office is located.
Glenn: Right, and it’s like cultured on a tobacco leaf with a mouse blood or something. I mean, it’s crazy, and you get it, but I want you to take me through how you get it and what happens when we come back.
Glenn: I think we actually probably like Congress a little less than we like Ebola. All right, so you’re there, the plane is coming. You had to land the plane. He’s sick. If he would’ve gotten on the plane, he would have died in the air. But in the meantime something else happens.
Dr. Plyler: Yeah, Glenn, it was really, it was very miraculous. And let me just make too a preface comment before I go into the ZMapp. We had a phenomenal medical team from both Samaritan’s Purse and SIM that provide around-the-clock care for Kent and Nancy, and they’re the unsung heroes. They should be applauded. And number two, this is an anecdotal experience. Certainly there needs to be further studies, but I can say in my 25 years of practicing medicine, it was the most powerful anecdotal experience I’ve ever had.
Glenn: The experience of what this drug did?
Dr. Plyler: Of what this drug did. And the amazing thing is really what I think the way God brought so many powerful people together to help me make an informed decision and us make an informed decision. And I’ve received permission from them, but it started…it actually started with the CDC. Dr. De Cock introduced me to Lisa Hensley from the NIH. She was there serving at the reference laboratory to confirm patients with Ebola, and he said why don’t you tell Dr. Plyler about some experimental drug opportunities? And she did just that.
We made contact, and she quickly made contact with many of her friends from the scientific community, Doctor Gary Kobinger, the chief of the Special Pathogens Lab of the Public Health Agency of Canada who had been involved with ZMapp production for over ten years, Larry of Zeitlin of Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, who make ZMapp, and other of their colleagues, and they gave me a crash course, if you will, about ZMapp. They told me all the experiments they had done, that the macaques had done exceedingly well with this drug.
I also was informed about a few other experimental medications, but after prayer and much contemplation, I had a real peace about ZMapp. And so on Wednesday, we were going to give…we had one course, and we had two patients, and so we had to make a decision. On Wednesday we decided, Kent and I decided that we would give the drug to Nancy because at this point he was clinically stable. This was on the 30th of July. The next day I peered in the window, and to my dismay to say the least, Kent had the look of a few hours left to live literally, and it was then I immediately changed my mind.
And I was informed, they said whatever you do, don’t split the dose, the course of therapy, because they were concerned. This is very, very limited medication, and they were concerned that they wouldn’t get another course, and you needed the full course. But at that moment, I just had this peace, split it, and so I looked in the window, I said, “Kent, I’m going to give you the antibodies.” And at that point they were still frozen.
Glenn: Okay, so now let’s make sure, like attorneys and everybody else said don’t do this, right? Because this has never been tried on humans before. Quite honestly, I don’t understand that whole thing. I mean, if I’ve got cancer, and I’m dying or I have Ebola, and I’m dying, load me up with shoe polish if you think it’ll work. You know what I mean? What have I got to lose? And this is frozen. It has to be kept what, a couple hundred degrees below zero, right?
Dr. Plyler: Minus 20.
Glenn: Minus 20, and explain how it comes in.
Dr. Plyler: So the story…I wish I had time. The amazing part is it came in from Sierra Leone. They did not elect to give it to the physician up there, Dr. Khan, and so we requested it, and it flew to us and made its way. It came through Sierra Leone to the Guinea border. We brought it across on a canoe over a river. We entered it into Liberia. We flew it from Liberia to Monrovia, the capital, and it arrived to us in a Styrofoam package about this big.
And Glenn, honestly, I was scared to death when I got it because now I had to do something with it. But as I said, when I looked in that window, and I saw Kent’s condition, as you said, I had no other choice. We had no other choice.
Glenn: So how did you thaw it?
Dr. Plyler: Glenn, honestly, I was putting it under my leg. I was doing everything I could, but the amazing thing is God gets the credit. Several hours earlier we had put one of the doses under Nancy Writebol’s arm, you know, to defrost it. And I suddenly remembered, and I ran…I was at Kent’s house, got in my truck. I went across as quickly as I could to Nancy’s, and another doctor, Dr. Eisenhut, she went in and got it because I wasn’t in PPE. I didn’t have anything but on gloves, and she put it in three bags, sprayed it with chlorine. We put it in a bucket. I threw it in the back of my truck. I rushed over back to Kent’s house.
Glenn: Suited back up?
Dr. Plyler: I never was suited. I only had gloves. I didn’t have any time. And I handed it to a Dr. Mobula [ph.], and she hung the antibodies.
Glenn: He’s hours within death.
Dr. Plyler: I think so, absolutely.
Glenn: How long before he started to turn, and what was that like?
Dr. Plyler: It was the best thing. It was one of the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I was so sure. I said, “God, you cannot let him die.” And within an hour, Glenn, his vital signs…he had 104.7 temperature. It came down. His respirations came down. He hadn’t walked in a day and a half. He walked to the bathroom.
Glenn: Within an hour?
Dr. Plyler: Within two hours, and in fact, I’ll never forget, I texted Lisa Hensley of the NIH, and I said, “Lisa, Kent is dramatically better. Is that possible from the antibodies?” And she said absolutely. Gary, referring to Gary Kobinger, said that the macaques would get better within hours. In my 25 years of medicine, it was the most dramatic anecdotal experience I’ve ever experienced.
Glenn: Not a public company, so you can’t invest in this, because I’m looking up stock. This is a really good investment. How much do they have of this?
Dr. Plyler: Very, very little.
Glenn: With the world’s resources, if we got serious, could we make this in abundance?
Dr. Plyler: They’re working diligently now. They’re reaching out to other companies that have capacity to, because it’s complicated, Glenn, how they make this.
Glenn: Is it really like tobacco leaves and mouse blood?
Dr. Plyler: That’s a simplification, but that’s correct.
Glenn: I mean, honestly, somebody was like I don’t know, let’s try some mouse blood and tobacco leaves. I mean, that sounds like something a drunk man would come up with. Okay, let me just go through a couple of things, and I think the audience wants to ask some questions. What should we be doing that we’re not doing? Does it make sense to close the airspace and say look, if you’re there, you’re there; if you’re not, you’re not coming in here or at least literally quarantine people for at least 21 days if you’re in that area?
Franklin: Glenn, I think those are decisions that somebody needs to make. One of the things that we need right now, and in Liberia the logistics is under the UN for helicopters and getting to rural areas, and it takes weeks to schedule a helicopter through them. Once they schedule it, they can cancel it like they did on us today for just no reason. They decided we’re not going to fly today.
The United States military needs to come in and take care of the logistics for organizations like us that are there working to help us save the lives of people. If we don’t save the lives of the people in Liberia, this thing is going to get worse. We’ve got to find a way to treat people and get them healthy and get them better.