The real heroes

August 3, 2014 • 9:39 am

The word “hero” has been tossed around so readily that it’s almost lost its meaning, but there are real heroes, working today. A real hero is someone who risks his or her life to help others whom they don’t even know.

Here are a couple.

The first is Sheikh Umar Khan, the chief doctor in charge of haemorrhagic fever (Lassa fever and Ebola) in Sierra Leone. After treating more than 100 Ebola patients in the current outbreak, he contracted the virus and died on July 29, less than a week after he was diagnosed.


As the BBC reports:

Shortly before he died, Dr Khan spoke to the BBC’s Umaru Fofana in Sierra Leone about the risks he and his colleagues face when treating infectious patients.

“Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for those with the disease. Even with the full kit we put on we’re at risk.

“I’m afraid for my life, because I cherish my life. And if you are afraid then you must take the maximum precautions, stay vigilant and stay on your guard,” he said.

Second, members of Doctors without Borders dealing with the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has killed over 600 people this year.  Knowing that even their protective garb won’t fully protect them from this horrible disease, they go in and battle it anyway. Click the picture to get to a link with several dozen others:

Doctors Without Borders staff members carry the body of a person killed by viral haemorrhagic fever at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Gueckedou, on April 1, 2014. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

53 thoughts on “The real heroes

    1. Don’t be shamed, Greg. Real courage comes in many forms. If a person goes through life, does some good things, does what he/she is supposed to do, and causes no harm to others, that, too, is the definition of a hero.

  1. Someone please remind me again–on which one of the six days of creation did god create the Ebola virus?

    1. Since it infects humans but is – we think – naturally hosted in bats, then that would make it.
      Sorry, do bats get a mention in Genesis? Or are they just lumped in with all the other flying beasts on day 5?
      Version B : god created Ebola just recently, because all the other horrible diseases he’d created had been defeated (or controlled) by science, and god needed something new and horrible to scare the slaves back into line. Obviously, god can’t defeat the machinations of science, and has to resort to creation ex nihilo.

        1. F**k me. And whales are fish. The ignorance that is harnessed by religion is unequaled. This is what people who think science and religion can be compatible should be reminded.

          1. A pope once declared sea turtles fish as well so people could eat them on fish Friday. This turned out badly for sea turtles.

  2. Incidentally, the Beeb’s reporting today suggests that the known death toll has gone over 700.
    What the actual death toll has been, who knows? Unlikely to be under a thousand so far, and rising.

    1. Some perspective:

      It also helps to put Ebola in perspective. Since 1976, Ebola has infected fewer than 5,000 people and killed fewer than 3,000. That’s in Africa, where over 1 billion people live. By contrast, poor, “boring” measles still kills 122,000 people every year and killed over 2 million a year in 1980, before widespread vaccination campaigns. According to the WHO, in 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627,000 deaths, mostly among African children. Also according to the WHO, since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which dates back almost as far as the discovery of the Ebola virus), HIV has infected over 75 million and killed 36 million, with approximately 35 million currently living with the infection. None of this means that we shouldn’t take Ebola seriously or that much larger outbreaks couldn’t happen. Nor does noting this difference minimize the deaths of people infected with the disease. We should note from these observations and others, however, that Ebola is unlikely to reach such numbers because it is simply not infectious enough and Ebola outbreaks tend to “burn themselves out” because, unlike HIV or measles (which are also transmissible human-to-human), Ebola virus disease is so rapidly fatal.



      1. Good perspective. All relevant.
        Of course, if the guy who landed in Lagos a few days ago has infected some of his fellow travellers (not all traced, TTBOMK, and potentially dispersed around the world), we may be getting a different perspective on the disease. It’s established history in largely rural areas doesn’t reduce it’s potential if it gets into a major urban centre (Lagos is over 20 million population).
        It seems that the Nigerian Govt are being rather more proactive on this front than on the Boko Haram kidnapping case (still around 200 girls missing), with efforts to “persuade” local churches, for example, to not harbour potentially infected refugees.

        Led by the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, the delegation offered to work with the health team of the church in the areas of technical assistance, medical advice and training to ensure that no victim of the deadly disease comes to the church from any of the affected countries undetected.

        10 days – we’re well into the incubation period.
        It’s a very worrying situation.

  3. To divert from the topic on a minor note: what about the arrogance of a systems that brings the infection to North America, arrogant in their believe that they can control and contain the virus in some lab, not in a test tube where the chances are high, but in a victim of the disease?

    Is it only me that sees something wrong here, remembering as a former lab tech the outbreak in Germany of a then unknown disease called the Marburg virus?

    1. I was also a bit surprised that they brought those two patients here. I can understand taking the risk for compassion’s sake if this were truly the only way to help them, though I would think it reasonable, even compassionate, if they decided not to take the risk even then. However, I find it a little difficult to believe that there is anything we can do in Atlanta that we couldn’t do in Liberia with, say,the best mobile military hospitals. If I am right about that, it does seem quite reckless to transport them around the globe.

      1. The doctor who is to head the treatment team in Atlanta said it was because “these Americans deserve the best treatment available”.

        There are many possible responses to that, which you’re all perfectly capable of working out on your own. One particularly cynical one would be that they wanted a chance to work on the virus in the most comfortable circumstances.

        1. “to work on the virus in the most comfortable circumstances.”

          That would not require to get the virus contained in a human being.
          I know what you are referring to.

          1. correction: unless they are unable to cultivate the virus at present. It is a new variety from what I understand.

      2. If the best “mobile military hospitals” were already there. But MSF is now building that kind of facility. See the article I linked to in my rely to the above, below.


    2. The virus is actually pretty hard to transmit, and the patients are kept under stringent isolation. The real danger of the virus spreading is the increased mobility of people in the areas of Africa where this thing turns up.

      1. I have worked – in some distant past – in biological labs in the pharma industry and research for a total of six years, and even if the risk is considered low: shit happens.
        I am not quite so confident knowing the propensity for human error, and the possibility of accidents.

        That why I called it arrogant to think that we can be confident nothing will happen.

        1. PS – i still remember the shill that was felt in the lab in Frankfurt were I was working in the mid sixties, when the news spread about the hemorrhagic fever infection in Behringer’s labs in Marburg and Frankfurt.

        2. Who’s saying that anyone is “confident nothing will happen”? As the article acknowledges, the risks are not zero, but are (presumably) deemed acceptably low when balanced against the benefits to the patients.


  4. My dictionary definition of, hero, is at odds with my definition.

    New Oxford American Dictionary definition:

    1 a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

    My definition:

    A person of either gender who knowingly places himself at risk to help others.

      1. I suppose it refers to the fact that there’s also “heroine.” Another diminutive we could afford to lose.

        1. It’s funny how the feminization of things seems silly and diminutive in English but I read politicians that feminize nouns in German all the time as a way to be inclusive.

          1. Either way just emphasizes that females are “the other,” not the norm.

            I’m working to make dropping the “-ess” of waitress and actress automatic. Thank goodness we never had doctresses.

            (I apologize to Jerry for derailing the discussion of heroes, here.)

  5. These people are real heroes. Others I can think of are the people that helped with nuclear meltdowns knowing that entering the site meant the exposure would kill them. Chernobyl had many of these heroes and more recently so did Fukushima

    1. Indeed, heroes should apply to those who walk into near to certain death situations involving radiation, as well as biological, or chemical (though those tend to be acute) hazards.

  6. I had heard that among the challenges of containing the outbreak is that the people in the affected areas have strong traditions about washing a body by hand. This only increases the chances of transmitting the infection. Also, since Western doctors appear during an outbreak, some have the opinion that the doctors are causing the outbreaks to happen!

  7. I was very sad to hear of the death of Dr Khan, he is a serious loss to Sierra Leone and the world. My thoughts are with his family.

  8. Moral beauty. Simply beautiful, their commitment and courage to save people. Thank goodness there are such heroes among us. If I were to worship anything, it would be them.

  9. To me, a hero is someone who not only knows what the right thing to do or say is, but goes ahead and does it or says it…without anticipation of recognition or expectation of reward.

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