SPANISH Ebola survivor Teresa Romero has started back at work today for the first time since she caught the highly-infectious haemorrhagic disease whilst treating one of two patients repatriated from west Africa.
The 46-year-old was no stranger to dealing with patients suffering contagious and infectious diseases, as she is a nurse working on a ward which handles HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and other high-risk conditions.
But she believes she caught Ebola from Spanish missionary Manuel García Viejo, 69, who was airlifted home from Liberia where he had been treating natives suffering from the disease as part of a church-run voluntary programme.
García Viejo passed away within days, as did the other Spanish missionary doctor, Miguel Pajares, 75, who was repatriated from Sierra Leone after displaying symptoms of Ebola.
Teresa was the only person in Spain to have caught the disease without leaving the country, and her condition made world headlines as she fought for her life through some seriously critical, touch-and-go moments that saw her on life-support with her organs failing fast.
Teresa 'testimony to Spain's excellent medical care'
The regional health boss in Madrid, whose attitude and choice comments at the time were slammed by members of the public, has since resigned, but Teresa has nothing but praise for her colleagues at the Carlos III hospital who treated her.
“Spain's health service is capable of working miracles, and I'm one of them,” she said at the time, reinforcing the commonly-held view that the medical care provided in Spain is among the best in the world.
But with the health authority of the time run by the controversial former PP boss, staff reveal they were not trained and that newly-qualified nurses with no experience were drafted in, often told they would lose their position on the jobseekers' list if they did not.
The former health leader faced pressure to resign after ordering Teresa's dog, Exkálibur, to be put to sleep 'in case' he was infected, despite countrywide campaigns to save him, and for comments such as: “She can't have been that ill if she went to the hairdresser's,” and, “you don't exactly need a master's degree to know how to put on a set of overalls.”
Amid calls for him to stand down, the health leader said: “If I have to resign, I'll resign. I don't need this job, I've got my life sorted out already.”
He did so a few days later.
Health administration in the Greater Madrid region has since moved on, and staff at the Carlos III say the former minister's attitude bore no connection to the actual care they gave patients – as Teresa is living proof of.
Soon after she became infected, 15 doctors from the Intensive Medicine Service at the hospital filed legal action, and an inquiry was started in October 2014.
They claimed they had not been given proper training on how to deal with Ebola cases, and that their protective clothing was of poor quality and did not fit properly.
Further claims piled up, with civil servants' union CSIF and the Auxiliary Nurses' Union joining in, as did Garzón Abogados, the law firm representing Teresa and her husband, Javier Limón.
Teresa appeared in court on Tuesday, where she admitted to the judge that she and her colleagues had been given no training besides an hour-long presentation and demonstration on how to put their overalls on and take them off – despite this being the most crucial and difficult skill needed to master to avoid cross-contamination.
'Pioneering' treatment using survivor's blood
Sra Romero was cured by pioneering techniques applied by her tireless, determined colleagues, including being injected with the blood of an Ebola survivor.
Sister Paciencia Melgar, from Equatorial Guinea, had been working with García Viejo in Liberia when she, too, caught Ebola – but Spain would only repatriate its own citizens, and Equatorial Guinea did not have the facilities to treat her.
The medically-qualified nun therefore had to resign herself to a slow and agonising death, with only prayers and paracetamol to take the edge off her pain.
Miraculously, she got better and was declared virus-free.
She was flown to Spain initially to give blood to inject into García Viejo, but arrived just minutes too late – although she was able to save Teresa, whose own blood is now immune and can be used to treat Ebola patients.
Although Teresa was declared Ebola-free and discharged from hospital after a month, the disease took its toll on her organs and she has needed another 16 months to fully recover from her ordeal.
Meanwhile, she and her husband Javier have taken in a new puppy from a rescue centre.
Photograph: Teresa Romero (centre), now back to work as a nurse at the Carlos III hospital, accompanied by her husband Javier Limón (left) and her solicitor (right)