Maine Doctor Heading to Liberia to Help Fight Ebola - NECN

Maine Doctor Heading to Liberia to Help Fight Ebola

Dr. Sharon McDonnell, a public health epidemiologist from Yarmouth, will volunteer with the International Rescue Committee.

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    Dr. Sharon McDonnell, a public health epidemiologist from Yarmouth, will volunteer with the International Rescue Committee. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014)

    A lot of attention has been focused on what happens to Ebola health care workers when they return to the United States.

    But every day, hundreds of medical professionals continue to answer the call, leaving home to respond to the crisis in West Africa.

    Among them is Dr. Sharon McDonnell, a public health epidemiologist, physician and professor at the University of New England.

    "I'm of a group of epidemiologists who just find this sort of situation incredibly interesting, and heartbreaking," said McDonnell from her home in Yarmouth, Maine. "Every time I'd watch the news, I'd feel like I should be there helping, I have something to offer that situation."

    She is flying to to Monrovia, Liberia to volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, one of many relief organizations providing front line care to the estimated 13,000 people who are infected with the disease.

    As an epidemiologist, McDonnell's job is to collect data and answer the big picture questions that will help stop the transmission of the virus.

    "What I'll be doing is looking at how many cases are there? What contacts have there been? How does information move from the treatment center to the laboratories to the WHO?" explained McDonnell.

    As an expert in epidemics, she says fear and anxiety are typical in the early stages of any outbreak.

    "It is a great, big epidemic with a lot unknown, so it's not expected that everyone would do it perfectly the first time," she said.

    What she does know is that doctors, nurses, and other public health professionals must have support to go and return to West Africa without undo burden.

    "More people are needed and there needs to be facilitating factors to let them go," said McDonnell. "For example, UNE let me stop my teaching load, found somebody else to take over, so that I could go."

    Like military families, leaving work and family is hard enough without additional restrictions.

    McDonnell has a daughter who is a senior in high school.

    While Natalya McDonnell says she's proud of her mother for wanting to "save the world," she is worried about her health.

    "She's told me many times that she's going to be working in non-quarantine areas, but still, I get very anxious for her and I kind of want to, like, just not have her to go," said Natalya McDonnell.

    Sharon McDonnell says she's uncertain what restrictions will be placed on her when she comes home for a short break at Christmas.

    She says she plans to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines and self-monitor during that period. Then, she says, she'll head back to Liberia for another three months to work alongside the army of health care professionals who are working to contain this deadly epidemic.

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