If the test drug hadn't been developed, and if the doctor it was intended to treat hadn't died first, if she hadn't been next in line, and if the treatment hadn't miraculously worked, Junietta Macauley wouldn't have been in Winnipeg Friday to personally thank medical researchers who worked on the Ebola treatment that saved her life.

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If the test drug hadn't been developed, and if the doctor it was intended to treat hadn't died first, if she hadn't been next in line, and if the treatment hadn't miraculously worked, Junietta Macauley wouldn't have been in Winnipeg Friday to personally thank medical researchers who worked on the Ebola treatment that saved her life.

"These people must be wonderful," she said, surrounded by media and about a dozen researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Junietta Macauley contracted Ebola, but survived thanks to the pioneering work of the National Microbiology Laboratory.</p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Junietta Macauley contracted Ebola, but survived thanks to the pioneering work of the National Microbiology Laboratory.

Macauley, from Sierra Leone, made a special stop to shake hands and praise the men and women who saved her. She had been in Montreal for an international meeting of funeral directors -- she runs a family funeral business in Sierra Leone -- and added Winnipeg to her visit.

"I'm extremely thankful. Words cannot express," she said.

Macauley survived, but her story is full of heartache.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Junietta Macauley's husband and son died in December 2014 during the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. </p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Junietta Macauley's husband and son died in December 2014 during the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.

Many people thought only the poor in Africa contracted Ebola. "That's what we thought. But we found it wasn't so," said Macauley.

The family lives in a three-story home, in a good neighbourhood, supported by the family funeral business. Her husband was a local preacher.

Her husband Henry came home on a Tuesday in late November 2014, and complained his legs felt wobbly. Local doctors didn't suspect Ebola because they lived in a better part of town.

By Friday, he couldn't get up and was diagnosed with kidney failure. Monday, he was taken to hospital. Tuesday, test results came back confirming Ebola. By Friday, he was dead.

Within days, two sons who tried to help their father were also diagnosed with the highly-infectious Ebola virus, as was a grandson. The eldest son died. The other two survived after being treated with antibodies from Ebola survivors.

Then Macauley couldn't stand up anymore. She was similarly diagnosed and believed she was going to die. The physician who first diagnosed Henry with kidney failure also contracted Ebola.

A trial treatment called ZMab from Winnipeg's microbiology lab was on its way to Sierra Leone to treat the physician -- but he died the day before it arrived. So the treatment was given to Macauley instead.

She couldn't sit up anymore. She took the treatment Dec. 19. Her illness stopped progressing. On Dec. 25, she was declared cured.

"I trust in God. That's the only thing I can say," said Macauley.

Only 25 people have been treated with ZMab so far, said Dr. Jim Strong, head of diagnostics and therapeutics at the national lab. Researchers are looking into ways to mass produce the treatment, he said.

"It's done an extremely good job of rescuing people very much on the brink" of death, he said.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are clear of the Ebola virus right now, Strong said, thanks to measures like safe burials, isolation of contacts, and public education.

 

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca