The way it hit, it struck with fierce intentions. Within three months it killed more people than Cancer, A.I.D.S., and the Vietnam War all together. Dubbed "the killer no one can stop," it was invincible to all mankind's protectors. Its name is Ebola. From the jungles of Africa it came. It came to kill and destroy. There were few survivors. This is where it all happened. The place: Los Angeles, California. The year: 1998.
We had known about the Ebola virus for several years before its main strike, especially people like me who went head up against the killer itself. My name is Sara Leon. I work for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in White Plains, Arizona. I'm here to tell you what happened between June 15, 1998 and September 3, 1998. My story begins in the city of Los Angeles, California. I received word of a recent outbreak there. Patients were pouring into hospitals with an unknown virus.
Doctors were frightened. "Where did it come from ?" was the dominant question of the hour. Everyone looked to CDC to eliminate the problem immediately, to end the nightmare. But we were frightened, too. What if the vaccines we had didn't work?
CDC sent a crew of nine to Los Angeles to determine how serious the situation was. Several of my colleagues and I were chosen to be part of the crew. Our first hospital was Cedar Sinai. We stepped through the sliding doors with covered feet and gas-masked faces. Every available space was taken up with bodies of infected people. Hospital personnel were rushing here and there, trying to do the best they could.
We walked over young and old, trying to find our way to the Chief Surgeon's office. I saw the faces of horror-stricken people. Their bodies looked as if they had been put through a grinder. Open sores covered every part of their bodies. Some couldn't open their eyes; some couldn't breathe on their own. Most of the people we saw were in the last stages of the disease. The open sores were bleeding, and they had become hemophiliacs. We couldn't stop the bleeding just like we couldn't stop the terror.
I knew we had no time to waste, so while we struggled to make sense of the chaos, I called headquarters at CDC and asked them to bring everything they had to set up an emergency lab. They informed us that calls were coming in from all over the world. We had a crisis on our hands. This was a situation that was definitely out of control.
In spite of the widespread need for assistance, within hours we got more help and supplies to set up an emergency lab in a large parking lot of the hospital site. Part of it was to treat and care for more patients, and the other sections was dedicated for testing and experimentation.
My crew members and I toiled hard for a vaccine that would halt the disease. Every night it seemed to wipe out a small part of the earth's population. At the time of the outbreak the population of North America was 60 million. Two weeks later it dramatically fell to 20 million. All we could do was to work our hardest. People were dying everywhere. Abandon buildings were used for burial sites. Crematories worked round the clock. Hell was definitely on earth.
We worked to find an answer, and just when we thought it was futile, we got a break. I was in the lab with Jim Jenkins a crew member and college buddy since our days at Harvard Medical School, when we found a connection between the virus and the latest formula we were using to vaccinate our lab animals. Our logs showed that the group of gerbils that were injected with Vaccine-64 had remarkably recovered within three days of their last injection. We were overwhelmed with joy. We had found a cure to the most lethal killer known to man.
Our last step was to find some willing patients, and that wasn't hard to do. They began a turn-around after only three treatments of the vaccine. Within four days all signs of the virus were gone in 100% of the test patients. Our next step was easy. We made bundles of the stuff with the help of CDC. The Center named the vaccine the L/J, after Jim and me.
The greatest thing about finding a cure like this was not the money, the fame, or the legend of your name, but the knowledge that you were responsible for saving millions of lives through your efforts I am not really a hero. I am merely a survivor. I was one of the lucky ones.
I see that the Cedar Sinai Hospital celebrated its grand reopening today, September 3, 1998. This date marks the five year anniversary of its closing. The event means more to me than just new tools and bigger rooms. It represents a new beginning to a brighter future.
Kimberly Garduno is a Junior at Manual Arts High School. Her hobbies are reading and writing poetry. She enjoys many different classes, but her favorite is Internation Relations. Her future plans are to go to college and major in banking and finance.