Ebola stricken missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are giving God the glory for their providential recovery that spotlights renewed debate in medical circles about the power of prayer to explain otherwise unexplainable medical miracles. Medical professionals hesitate to embrace inexplicable forces as a tangible means for healing. Scientific skepticism aside, however, Psychology Today reports that many scientists and health care providers have seen firsthand evidence that a patient’s faith and prayer support can produce observable and convincing improvements on their physical condition and rates of recovery, leading some to incorporate a holistic approach to integrating faith and spirituality in their medical practice.
Brantly and Writebol contracted the ebola virus while working with international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia to aid victims stricken with the disease in the third world African nation. The missionaries are not the first to recover from the powerful infection but the fatality rate of over 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), puts a spotlight on whether medical treatment or prayer is responsible for their restored health. There is no established foolproof cure for ebola; although veteran doctors say early treatment is critical in cases where a patient recovers. Nonetheless, Emory University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unit’s director, Dr. Bruce Ribner who oversaw the missionaries’ treatment acknowledges that it is unclear whether the experimental Zmapp serum Brantly and Writebol received was a deciding factor in their recovery.
Substandard healthcare systems in West Africa conceal the extent of the effect of the ebola virus in the region as many of the stricken take cover away from public scrutiny obscuring the effort to gather accurate statistics on cases of recovery. The CDC reports over 2,600 known or suspected cases with more than 1,500 laboratory confirmations in the four affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. In excess of 1,400 suspected cases have ended in death according to the CDC case count as of Aug. 22, 2014. The high probability of fatality among ebola victims shines a spotlight on what makes the difference for those who recover, prompting strong opinions on both sides of the prayer debate from the scientific and religious communities who look to the case of these missionaries for evidence to power their positions.
Though optimistic about early results from administering the experimental treatment ZMapp Brantly, Writebol and a few other ebola patients, Ribner recognizes that results are far from conclusive just yet that the medication is the deciding factor in these missionaries’ recent recoveries. The drug is a powerful concoction of monoclonal antibodies with dedicated purpose of seeking and destroying the ebola virus. King’s College London’s Dr. Annette Rid, writing for The Lancet medical journal, expresses similar reservations regarding the potential power of the new treatment methods. Ribner explains that other factors such as nutrition and early intervention play a key role in an ebola patient’s prognosis for survival. He notes that the two stricken missionaries had the advantage of starting with relatively good health and receiving appropriate medical care within a few days of their infection, which could have contributed to their chances of successful recovery, regardless of any beneficial effects of prayer.
Regardless of the opinions of medical professionals, Brantly makes it clear that he and Writebol consider their recovery nothing short of a miracle from God. He told news reporters at Emory Hospital that God deserved the glory for saving their lives, attesting to the prayers of countless supporters around the globe and expressing an unshaken belief that God heard and answered those prayers. The hospital released a statement, confirmed by the CDC, that urine and blood tests clearly show that none of the virus remains in the missionaries’ systems and they present no public health risk upon their release. Brantly joins with Samaritan’s Purse president, Franklin Graham in shining the spotlight on Liberia and asking people to continue praying for ebola victims in Liberia and West Africa and an end to the devastating epidemic. Ribner shares that Brantly and Writebol showed extreme courage, determination, hope and faith in the face of the devastating infection, providing much inspiration to hospital staff.
The debate on the power of prayer in providential cures has gained the world spotlight with the missionaries’ recovery after being stricken with the deadly ebola virus and will continue long past their eventual return to their humanitarian work. However, Midwest Surgical Association president, Dr. Donn Schroder sums it up by encouraging medical professionals to make use of every available resource. He adds that whether for psychological or supernatural reasons, prayer is a powerful means of effecting a positive outcome for many patients, not just for a much-publicized case of ebola but for a private struggle with other destructive diseases.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
NBC News: No Risk