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Surgeon with ties to Maryland could be flown to U.S. for Ebola treatment

People walk past a billboard with a message about ebola in Freetown.
People walk past a billboard with a message about ebola in Freetown. (FRANCISCO LEONG, AFPGetty Images)

A surgeon with ties to Maryland who was infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone could be flown to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for treatment.

In a statement Thursday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that it is "in touch" with the family of a permanent resident working in Sierra Leone who has contracted the deadly virus. The United Methodist Church, which said it employs the doctor as chief medical officer of Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, identified him as Dr. Martin Salia.

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State Department officials said his wife has asked the agency to help determine whether he is well enough to be taken to Nebraska for treatment.

Salia's wife and two children live in Maryland, said Steve Dennie, a spokesman for United Brethren Church of Christ in Indiana. Salia is a member of a United Brethren church in Sierra Leone, Dennie said.

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There was no answer Friday at the Hyattsville home of Salia's wife, Isatu Salia.

The Freetown hospital was closed Nov. 11 after Salia tested positive for the virus, according to the Methodist church's website. It was not clear how he contracted the virus, church officials said. The hospital has been dealing with a rush of Ebola patients since other private and government hospitals have closed, they said.

It was not immediately clear how long Salia had been in Sierra Leone. He is not licensed to practice medicine in Maryland, according to state Board of Physicians records.

Although the State Department organizes evacuations for Ebola patients in West Africa, the patient or organization must cover the cost of transport and treatment.

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Salia would be the 10th Ebola patient to be treated in the United States. Two others were treated at Nebraska Medical Center — Dr. Rick Sacra, who became ill after working with patients in Liberia, and Ashoka Mukpo, a U.S. cameraman working in Liberia. Both recovered and were released from the hospital.

Nebraska Medical Center officials said in a statement that a patient who contracted the disease in Sierra Leone was being evaluated for possible treatment at the hospital.

"He will be evaluated by the medical crew on the Phoenix Air jet upon their arrival in Sierra Leone," the hospital said. "The members of the crew will determine whether the patient is stable enough for transport. If he is, he would arrive in Omaha sometime Saturday afternoon."

The medical center said staff there had been in a "state of readiness" to treat Ebola patients since a visit by the State Department in early August.

Three Ebola patients have been flown from West Africa and treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and one who was exposed to the virus was flown to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda. All recovered and were released.

A doctor who became sick with the virus after returning from Africa was treated in New York City and released this month.

Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, is the only person known to have died of the virus here. Two Dallas nurses who contracted the virus from him during treatment survived, including one treated at NIH.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance, Tribune newspapers and Reuters contributed to this article.

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