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Ron Harris/AP

The Writebols at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta in August, five years after Nancy underwent treatment there for Ebola (Ron Harris/AP)

Health

Scars to heal

In a country ravaged by war and epidemic, an American Ebola survivor and a Liberian pastor help residents recover from trauma

In August, Nancy Writebol, a missionary with SIM International, celebrated exactly five years of being healed of Ebola. She had contracted the virus during the 2014 outbreak while helping spray health workers with decontaminating bleach at Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

On this anniversary of leaving the U.S. hospital where she received treatment, she made dinner with her husband David Writebol, sitting at the table in the same house in Liberia where she had been sick and isolated before her medical evacuation from the country. The Writebols talked almost laughingly about all they went through. They’re a cheerful, jocular couple with a long career in hard places.

But certain memories still make Writebol cry. When she got out of the hospital, she was so thankful to be alive and Ebola-free that she was caught off guard by the way people treated her and her husband afterward. Close friends avoided her, fearful about Ebola. She carried an official letter declaring her to be a safe, noninfectious human being, but at one U.S. airport agents pulled her aside and brought out people in protective gear who said they were going to call in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We were almost afraid to be seen because we didn’t know how people would respond to us,” said Writebol. “To this day it’s still painful.”

Soon after returning to Liberia with SIM in 2015, Nancy Writebol began work as a trauma healing facilitator for Ebola survivors in a country with the barest of mental health resources. She can identify with Liberians not only in terms of surviving Ebola, but also in having her home looted right after she was medically evacuated—something many Liberian survivors experienced.

Evangelical Church of Liberia Pastor Jeremiah Kollie works with Writebol to lead trauma healing sessions and train facilitators. They point out they are not trained psychologists, but simply offer Biblical counseling resources.

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Onize Ohikere

A polio campaign team member dispenses the vaccine to a child. (Onize Ohikere)

Health

A day in a polio campaign

Nigeria is nearly polio-free thanks to oral vaccinations, but some parents remain resistant

At 7:00 on a Saturday morning in July, dozens of volunteers gathered at the primary health center in the town of Karu. It marked the start of a four-day polio campaign on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

Supervisors for different groups received last-minute reminders on how to verify their team’s work. Team members collected kits for the day that included identity tags, green overalls, and oral polio vaccines.

Nigeria is the only country in Africa where the wild poliovirus is still considered endemic. But the country has not recorded any natural transmission in nearly three years and could be declared polio-free by the end of this year.

Despite the rigorous vaccination campaigns, several challenges still pose a risk for future outbreaks. Polio is a highly infectious viral disease mostly affecting children younger than 5. Mainly spread through feces, the virus multiples in the intestine and can infect the nervous system, eventually resulting in paralysis. The disease has no cure but can be prevented by vaccination.

At the clinic, all the volunteers teamed up and left for their designated areas. There, they started a routine that continued for the next four hours: knock on each door, introduce themselves as a team from the immunization unit, and ask if families have any children age 5 or younger.

At the houses with children, they dispensed drops of the oral vaccine into each child’s mouth, then marked his left pinky finger with a purple marker to indicate he received it.

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Adam Fondren/The Deseret News via AP

Chelsea Torres puts Callie (left) and Carter into a specially made jumper at the Utah Center for Assistive Technology in Salt Lake City. (Adam Fondren/The Deseret News via AP)

Health

Knit together

Parents choose a difficult life over death for conjoined twins

Nick and Chelsea Torres couldn’t believe their ears when they heard a heartbeat. An ultrasound three weeks earlier hadn’t been able to find one. At their eight-week appointment, they thought the doctor would say they’d miscarried their unborn child.

Chelsea was so overjoyed she didn’t notice a second heartbeat. The doctor revealed the image on the ultrasound was conjoined twins, a rare condition occurring once in every 200,000 live births.

Specialists in Boise, Idaho, told the couple, both 24, to abort the babies. Although the Torreses don’t claim religious faith, they’d always been against abortion. But under the pressure from their family, friends, and the doctors, they almost changed their minds.

“For about four hours we agreed that we could do it,” Nick said. But he says Chelsea realized, “It wasn’t … a tiny baby or a tiny blob being extracted. It was me giving someone permission to kill my child.”

At 22 weeks into the pregnancy, specialists at Texas Children’s Hospital advised the couple to abort. They said no.

On Jan. 30, 2017, Chelsea delivered Callie and Carter. The Torreses were prepared for doctors to separate the girls soon after birth, but doctors said at that point the twins were healthier together than apart. Nick and Chelsea brought them home to Blackfoot, Idaho.

Callie and Carter are connected from the belly button down. They share internal organs, including their intestines, kidneys, and reproductive organs, and one pair of legs.

But at 10 months old, Callie and Carter are developing like normal babies in other ways. They roll over, scoot, say “dada,” and will eventually crawl and then walk. While they share bodies, they don’t share personalities. Callie is giggly and easygoing. Carter is cautious and cries around strangers.

Their mother has experienced seesawing emotions. Chelsea was bitterly disappointed that the girls couldn’t be separated—and that turned into postpartum depression and anger.

She found support in a Facebook group of 150 moms pregnant with or raising conjoined twins around the world. While some try everything to give their conjoined twins life, others write they’ve ended their pregnancies. “You have people who literally have tried everything … and then you have people who opt out and say well this is the easy way to go,” Chelsea said.

The Torreses know that choosing life was not the “easy way to go.”

Nick and Chelsea couldn’t find a day care provider that felt comfortable taking care of conjoined twins, so Nick stays home while Chelsea works the overnight shift at Walmart. That’s not what she hoped to be doing. At the time she got pregnant, she was in school to become a vet technician.

Because of the girls’ unique body shape, Chelsea has to sew every shirt or dress they wear. They had to find a tech company to make a special car seat with two sets of head straps.

Callie and Carter’s future is uncertain. They’ve decided the twins will decide when and if they want to separate. Separation would give their daughters independence but a host of medical problems like colostomy bags and only one leg.

Chelsea admits she sometimes feels haunted by the choice she didn’t make—the choice doctors claimed would be best for her daughters.

“I have looked at them and said maybe I should have aborted them,” Chelsea said. “But then I also look at them and notice that they’re not unhappy with how they are. So I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Nick and Chelsea know their daughters won’t have an easy life, but they do have a chance at life: together or apart.

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