For Canton resident Wade Miles, the Ebola outbreak is much more than just something to read about in the news.
As interim director of Grady Hospital Emergency Medical Services, he was called on to head up the team that transported the three Ebola patients treated in Atlanta, which placed him at the center of the recent frenzy.
Since news of the widespread Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa broke in July, much of the nation has reacted in a state of worry, fearing the epidemic that has killed thousands could spread to surrounding areas.
In early August, many Americans’ worst fears came to life as they witnessed through the media two American medical aid workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, receive transport to Grady Hospital in Atlanta for medical treatment after contracting the disease.
But for Miles, combating infectious illnesses has been a part of his daily existence for the last 12 years at Grady, so it came as no surprise to him when he received a call asking his team to transport the first two Americans to contract Ebola into the states for medical treatment.
As of today, Miles and his team have successfully transported three Ebola patients and are prepared to transport more, if additional cases need to be brought to Atlanta.
“My role is that of the team leader. I have to coordinate between the state department, Emory University, the health departments in DeKalb and Fulton counties, and with just everyone who has a role in it. I have to coordinate everything and make sure that my team is prepared,” Miles said in an interview with the Tribune.
When asked what finding out his team was going to be transporting the first American cases of Ebola was like, he said he knew they were up to the task because of their training.
“It’s kind of like preparing for the Super Bowl and finally making it, you know? You train, you do all your studying, you do everything you can to prepare yourself and your team and every time it’s just training, but then you finally get the real patient. It was pretty flattering for all of us,” he said.
He said he and his team weren’t even the slightest bit apprehensive to work with the Ebola patients.
“We started the team 12 years ago, and the team wasn’t specifically for Ebola, it was for any seriously communicable disease, but we did have Ebola on the radar, and other diseases like smallpox. So we’ve been preparing for it for 12 years. In our minds, we had already transported 12 Ebola patients because we do a practice one every year in training.”
Miles says there are several ways in which he and his team prepare for transport of infectious disease patients, particularly Ebola. The first step in educating his team was explaining what Ebola is, then how it’s contracted, and how it’s treated.
Once his team was versed in Ebola protocol, they developed tools and procedures to protect personnel and the ambulance using CDC guidelines.
“We have a team medical director who oversees everything along with us,” he said.
In response to those who have been critical of Ebola patients being transported to Atlanta, Miles gave assurances to local residents that trained professionals are ready for these transports and that Atlanta is the best possible place for American Ebola patients.
“Our team was actually set up in conjunction with Emory University when they signed a contract with the CDC,” he said. The whole mission for us, and Emory really, is to protect CDC workers. If they’re over in a hotspot around the world and they get sick, that’s our main mission. It just happened to be that we’ve branched out and we’re accepting other patients.”
When asked if he deems other medical facilities in the United States as capable as Grady of handling Ebola patients, Miles said there are others around the nation.
“Prior to this July, the answer would be absolutely, no. Since then, there are other services that we’ve actually helped by answering a lot of questions. We’re not secret with our policies and procedures, or with our patient care guidelines and stuff like that, so they ask what we do. So there are other agencies. I don’t know that they’re as prepared, and they haven’t practiced as long as we have, but there are other agencies,” he said.
Miles said that Atlanta “absolutely” harbors the best Ebola treatment facilities.
On a personal level, Miles discussed how he was treated after assisting in the transports of the Ebola patients in Atlanta.
Miles is married to Alicia Miles, head nurse at Reinhardt University in Waleska. Their daughter, Caitlin, attends Sequoyah High School in the Hickory Flat community of Canton.
“Of course (my wife) Alicia and (daughter) Caitlin were a little worried. We had a conversation the day before we did the transport and I reassured them that I, for one, wasn’t actually making patient contact and that, even if I was, I was well prepared. We had taken every step and every precaution possible to avoid contracting the illness. I got a few text messages from friends, you know, asking, ‘Why would you ever agree to do something like that?’ And my response was, ‘I could’ve said no. We didn’t have to do the transport, but somebody would have.’ It might as well be the team that was trained for it.”
Miles understands the reasons behind people’s fear of the disease, but explains that Ebola isn’t a new disease, nor does it produce a fatality rate as high as many other infectious illnesses. He said more people die annually of the flu than of Ebola.
What makes this outbreak so different than the anticipated, regular Ebola outbreaks, Miles says, is that medical personnel in West Africa failed to contain the outbreak when it first occurred.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated the magnitude of this,” he said.
“I don’t know that the American medical teams were sent over quickly enough and if they were, I don’t know that they could have contained it. There are a lot of practices over in Africa that actually help it spread. Hospitals there aren’t set up the way ours are here. That’s why I really don’t know that it would be a threat in the United States because of the precautions that we take,” he explained.
To those living in fear of catching the disease, Miles urges people to remain aware of their surroundings and keep distance from anyone showing flu-like symptoms or bleeding. Ebola is contracted through bodily fluids.
“Cough, runny nose, bleeding from unknown origin, getting bruises and you don’t know why, abdominal pain, vomiting and seeing blood, bloody diarrhea, a spike in fever and general weakness are things you should look out for. It all happens pretty quickly, within two to twenty-one days of being infected. The thing you have to remember is that you aren’t contagious until you start showing symptoms,” Miles said.
Since the emergence of Ebola in the United States, all precautions to avoid spreading the disease are being taken, Miles said. He says that when 911 calls are taken, if patients describe Ebola-like symptoms, they are asked about travel and are isolated, if necessary. Patients are again questioned in the ambulance and again at the hospital.
“We’re much more conscious of it,” he said.
Miles, along with other EMS personnel Aaron Jamison and doctors Alexander Isakov and Bruce Ribner, has now co-written an article entitled “Safe Management of Patients with Serious Communicable Diseases: Recent Experience with Ebola Virus” for the American College of Physicians, published under Annals of Internal Medicine.
He spends much of his time answering questions and helping with the set up of other medical teams across the country, preparing them to deal with infectious disease.