Ebola survivor Pauline Cafferkey is planning to return to Sierra Leone for the first time since she was struck down with with the killer virus. The Scottish nurse said she hopes the fundraising trip in May will help to bring “closure” after a “terrible couple of years”.
Ms Cafferkey contracted Ebola in 2014 and has suffered a series of further health scares due to complications linked to the disease, at one stage falling critically ill. The 41-year-old also faced disciplinary proceedings over events surrounding her return to the UK for which she was later cleared.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, she said going back to Sierra Leone will be “psychologically important”.
She said: “It’s where things kind of started for me and I’ve had a terrible couple of years since then.
“So it will be good to go back just for things to come full circle for me and a little bit of closure.
“Most people have been supportive if they know that I’m going back. I’ve had a few people, like family friends, who say ‘just be careful when you get back there’.”
Despite her experience Ms Cafferkey, who lives in Glasgow, said she was “excited” to go back and is “not going there with any trepidation”. The nurse will take part in a 10km run during the fundraising tripfor Street Child, a UK charity which helped youngsters affected by the epidemic.
It estimates around 12,000 children were left orphaned, with 1,400 still critically at-risk and struggling to survive. Ms Cafferkey said she has the ordeal of contracting the virus in common with its African victims, although their experiences were “very different”.
“The Ebola patients in Sierra Leone didn’t know what they were going home to, or who was left alive in their family. They might be going back to sheer hell,” she said. During the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis which swept Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, more than 28,000 cases were reported, resulting in over 11,000 deaths.
Ms Cafferkey, a nurse of 16 years who had carried out aid work, travelled to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to volunteer at an Ebola treatment centre with Save The Children in 2014. She returned to the UK on December 28 that year for what was supposed to be a break as part of a rotation system but she was quickly struck down herself.
There were fears for her life but her condition was said to have stabilised by early January and she was discharged from hospital later that month, with doctors saying she had completely recovered and was not infectious in any way.
However, she was readmitted to hospital on three occasions – in October 2015 and February and October 2016.
In 2016 the nurse also faced misconduct proceedings before the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) over allegations relating to her arrival in the UK in the early stages of her infection.
Ms Cafferkey was cleared by the NMC as her judgment at the airport had been so impaired by the developing illness that she could not be found guilty of misconduct.
She said the proceedings were a “massive stress” at a difficult time, but she did not hold anything against the NMC.
However the nurse said she had been “disappointed with Public Health England and how they looked after me when I was in Heathrow”.