When Ebola turned routine care into a life threatening event

May 2015

Dr Diallo Thierno Souleymane, a doctor in Conakry, Guinea, recalls the day he received a phone call that changed his life. He had tested positive for Ebola. After surviving the disease and emerging from the Ebola treatment center, Dr Thierno was frightened to return to work and feared being stigmatized. He has since returned and advises other survivors to "have the courage to return to work [and] support the Ebola response."

Thierno Souleymane, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, Guinea
WHO/P. Haughton
Thierno Souleymane, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Ignace Deen Hospital, Conakry, Guinea

Dr Diallo Thierno Souleymane will never forget the phone call he received on 26 August 2014. A specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr Thierno was at work in the wards of the Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, Guinea when he got a call informing him that one of his patients had tested positive for Ebola.

"Three days before, I examined her, wearing gloves, after she had suffered a stillbirth," recalls Dr Thierno. "Then I received the call telling me that she tested positive for Ebola. From that very moment I knew I had become a contact," says Dr Thierno.

Dr Thierno’s life changed overnight. Although he had no Ebola symptoms at first, he immediately isolated himself to protect his family. “The first thing I did was call my wife. I was not afraid at all, but I wanted her to take our kids to her mum’s place. They needed to be away from me for 21 days,” he adds.

First Ebola symptoms

Dr Thierno continued to go to work, while carefully monitoring his body temperature every day. A few days later, he started to feel something was wrong. “Suddenly, my body temperature increased to 37.9° C. I did not talk to anybody. I packed my things and took my bags. I told my wife that I was going to an Ebola treatment centre.”

When he arrived at the Ebola treatment centre, Dr Thierno was uncomfortable about being there as a patient, not a doctor. A lot of people recognized him. “I told everyone that there was nothing wrong. I waited till they all left to enter. I got examined, and was tested for Ebola the following day,” he says.

Dr Thierno Souleymane, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Ignace Deen hospital in Conakry, Guinea
WHO/P. Haughton

The next day the results came back. Dr Thierno had tested positive for Ebola.

Forgetting his life as a tool to survive

Once inside the wards of the Ebola treatment centre, Dr Thierno says he made a conscious effort to forget about his children, his wife, and his parents.

"Forgetting about my life outside the hospital room helped me to survive. I was able to let go of any stress and focus on surviving," he concludes. As the symptoms started to worsen, Dr Thierno began to forget the world around him and his life outside the Ebola treatment centre.

Dr Thierno said there were moments during his illness when his caretakers and colleagues were convinced he was dead. "I was asthenic, I did not eat. The colleagues in the treatment centre did a lot for me. They came to wash and feed me. There were even students of mine who worked in the centre, but they were afraid to tell me who they were. It wasn’t until I started to recover that they came forward."

"Once discharged from the Ebola treatment centre, I stayed home for a couple of months. I didn’t want to be stigmatized."

Dr Thierno Souleymane, the Ignace Deen Hospital, Conakry, Guinea

Courageous return to work

By the end of September, Dr Thierno tested negative for Ebola and returned home. However, fear of stigmatization, along with the desire to hide his deteriorated physical state from his friends and colleagues, made Dr Thierno reluctant to pick up his life again.

"Once discharged from the Ebola treatment centre near the end of September, I stayed home for a couple of months. I started to get out of the house only in December. I didn’t want to be stigmatized," says Dr Thierno.

This was a very difficult time because Dr Thierno, the family breadwinner did not get paid while he was not working. “While I was recovering, I could not go to work to put food on the table. This was the most difficult time. Fortunately, my family fully supported me,” he says.

Eventually Dr Thierno did recover fully and is now back at his old place of work. When asked what advice he would give to fellow Ebola survivors, he says, “I would tell them to have the courage to return to work. Ebola kills. But there are many other diseases that kill. I would say they were lucky to have survived Ebola. So continue to work, especially on initiatives which support the Ebola response.”