Ebola survivor who lost 21 relatives gives birth to baby boy

Ebola survivor who lost 21 relatives gives birth to baby boy

KENEMA, Sierra Leone - The Associated Press
Ebola survivor who lost 21 relatives gives birth to baby boy

In this photo taken Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, Ebola survivor Victoria Yillia, right, sits beside her newborn son Barnabas at her home in Kenema, on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone. AP Photo

Ebola did not take Victoria Yillia’s life. And it could not prevent the birth of her son. And yet it loomed, even on this, her happiest day.

She delivered her child just a few minutes’ walk from the ward where just last year she had hovered between life and death, and nurses and medical staff still wore full protective suits and masks for fear of any lingering infection. Doctors gave her formula and told her not to nurse her baby until they ran tests to be sure there were no traces of the virus in her breast milk.

Her husband Anthony beamed in the maternity ward as they talked about names for the boy nestled in a blanket with a yellow knit cap. But Victoria burst into tears: Her mother was not here to help her, to show her what to do with her first child. Nor was her grandmother, or her three older sisters.

The couple and their new baby are all that remain: Twenty-one members of her family died of Ebola when the virus ripped through this corner of Sierra Leone.

“Because I lost all my relatives, God has blessed me and I can start a new family,” she said, softly cradling the boy. “With this baby, all I have lost has come back to me.”

Victoria is not just her family’s sole survivor - she was also the first person to survive Ebola in Sierra Leone. Her survival was celebrated nationally: She met the president, and the day of her release, June 8, is now National Survivors Day.

If she is the face of survival in Sierra Leone, it is fitting that her life of hope and sorrow mirrors that of an Ebola-ravaged country struggling to move on, despite its anguish.

It all began so happily. She met Anthony in the village of Koindu when she was just 16. He was volunteering at her school with dreams of becoming a teacher and couldn’t take his eyes off of her. They married and she stayed behind with her family as he completed his university studies in Kenema.

Soon she was expecting, but her first weeks of pregnancy were fraught with complications. Victoria had no way of knowing that a nurse who treated her had also come into contact with someone who’d attended a funeral in Guinea - and brought the deadly Ebola virus across the border.

She lost the baby in late May 2014 just as she was nearing the end of her first trimester, and she was sent to the maternity ward in Kenema where her husband studied. It was there doctors determined she was suffering from more than a miscarriage. The 20-year-old had Ebola.

Meanwhile, back home in her village other family members began falling sick.

“We were at the hospital when we heard that her sister’s baby boy was dead,” Anthony recalls. “A few minutes later they called to say that her mother was sick and two days later she died.”

Soon Victoria’s father was feverish and ill. Her grandmother, her three older sisters, all died as well. Anthony didn’t know how to tell his wife she was the only survivor, and feared the unrelenting grief could take her too. The decision was made to wait several weeks until she regained some strength.