Brother-Sister Alumni Team Helps Battle Ebola in Sierra Leone

JANUARY 27, 2015 – Jen Tran (NHS’11) and Alex Tran (NHS’08) were among the first responders with the International Medical Corps (IMC) who traveled to Sierra Leone to help stop the Ebola outbreak.

Jen, a nursing alumna, joined the IMC clinical team as an emergency nurse at the Ebola Treatment Center in hard-hit Lunsar. Her brother Alex, an international health graduate, served as the IMC’s lead epidemiologist in Sierra Leone.

During her six-week rotation, Jen managed a team of 15-20 local nurses; assisted physicians with medical charts and rounds; coordinated admissions, discharges, and transfers within the wards; and delivered care to patients in the high-risk zone.

Safety First

“The most difficult part about working with Ebola patients is that safety comes first,” says the BSN alumna, who is pictured at right in her personal protective equipment (PPE). “Therefore, you can't respond to patients immediately.”

The medical staff enters the high-risk zone at specific times, wearing full PPE. There are time restraints associated with wearing PPE in hot weather because of the risk of heat-related illnesses.

“With all the PPE you wear, it gets extremely hot,” Tran explains. “The goggles fog within 15-20 minutes, regardless of your defogger spray, and you can’t really see well.”

Education and Encouragement

While interviewing to join the IMC, Tran was asked how she felt about the fact that 60-70 percent of her patients would die.

“I am not sure if I am completely prepared for it,” she replied, noting that the support of her clinical team would help in the face of adversity and grief.

A song to fight Ebola recently came out in Sierra Leone, she says. The lyrics warn people about the symptoms of the disease and encourage them to seek medical attention.

“This song had been a game-changer,” says Tran. “The more we are able to educate and encourage early symptom management, the higher the chance of survival is.”

Joining the Fight

Alex, who returns to Washington, D.C., today, says that the situation has improved since he first arrived.

“I had never felt more compelled to do anything in my life than to join the fight against Ebola,” he says. “It has been an honor to work along with my sister as well as other amazing individuals from Sierra Leone and across the world.”

Jesuit Values

Jen says that helping educate the local nurses was an extremely rewarding experience.

“I tried to pass on all my knowledge to strengthen their practice during this Ebola era as well as for their future careers,” she says.

Both Alex and Jen believe that the Georgetown values spurred them to take action against Ebola.

“I am dedicated to service to others and always look to cura personalis [care for the whole person] as a standard in my practice,” Jen says.

By Masha Mikey (S’15)