Leadership can be exercised many ways. In Dr. Nahid Bhadelia’s case, she showed it in August, 2014, when she flew into Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, to help fight a devastating outbreak of Ebola.
Dr. Bhadelia, a Fellow for Life who will present at our 2016 SPARK! Leadership Conference, was quickly struck by the fact that people couldn’t touch each other. Here in the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic a friendly handshake or hug could be deadly, and it was a chilling reminder of the purpose of her visit: to help fight the epidemic.
The inability to touch her patients, many of whom were orphaned or shunned by their communities, troubled Dr. Bhadelia, an epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, Director of Infection Control at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory, and a Schweitzer Fellow for Life.
“There were so many children who lost all their family, and they were in those units alone, some of them under five years of age,” she recalled in a magazine interview after her first trip to the African nation. “You want to reach down and really comfort them, but all they can see is your eyes. You’re completely covered. You want to pet them, you want to caress them, but you have double gloves on.”
Despite the risk of deadly infection, Dr. Bhadelia, who had never treated an Ebola patient before, set aside her fear because she knew she had expertise to offer. “What you do in this situation is you look at it and you say, ‘Can I contribute?’ In my mind, what I can contribute is much higher than the fear that I have for my own safety.”
Bhadelia made more trips to Sierra Leone to treat patients during the epidemic. But her service to those impacted by Ebola didn’t end with there. In June 2015, Dr. Bhadelia launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to retroactively pay local healthcare workers in Sierra Leone who, because of administrative problems and corruption, weren’t compensated for putting their lives at risk. “The issue is that now that the epidemic is done, they can’t find employment, many of them,” Bhadelia has observed. “They’ve done all this stuff, and in the end they’re kind of left high and dry.”
Bhadelia also returned to the country to help rebuild its devastated healthcare system and to document the stories of Ebola workers whose lives were changed by their work on the front lines.
We’re excited that Dr. Bhadelia, who was the 2016 recipient of the Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, will join us at the 2016 SPARK! Leadership Conference on Saturday Nov. 5 at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel to discuss working on the frontlines of the fight against Ebola.