(Bloomberg) — Nina Pham, the nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who cared for the first patient in the U.S. diagnosed with Ebola, began volunteering at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Fort Worth as a child.
Now the 26-year-old nurse has become the first person to contract the disease in the U.S. after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from the virus on Oct. 8.
“She is a hero,” said Tom Ha, a Haltom City, Texas, insurance agent who attends Our Lady of Fatima with Diana Pham, Nina’s mother. “She knew the patient had Ebola but she treated him like any other patient.”
Pham’s career in nursing and her commitment to assisting in patient care came as no surprise to members of the church, who saw her volunteering in the community from a young age. Pham didn’t hesitate to take up a role in the hospital staff treating Duncan, said Kim Tran, also a friend of Pham’s mother.
“She was not scared at all to be on the unit called to take care of Mr. Duncan,” Tran said. “She has always wanted to be a nurse and to take care of people.”
Pham, who became a registered nurse in 2010, according to state records, cared for Duncan multiple times during his stay at the hospital, health officials have said. She was wearing full protective gear and following the protocol for treating infected people, said Dan Varga, chief clinical officer at Texas Health, at a press conference.
“I’m doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers,” Pham said in a statement released by the hospital today. “I am blessed by the support of family and friends and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world here.”
Pham’s infection means the U.S. has to “rethink” care procedures, said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a press conference yesterday. Candace White, spokeswoman for the hospital, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Pham, who graduated in 2010 from Texas Christian University with a nursing degree, lived in a Dallas apartment building that city officials sealed off and cleaned starting Oct. 11. The family is “in shock right now” and staying in seclusion, said Ha.
Stephanie Wright, 27, who met Pham through their sorority at Texas Christian, is helping to organize a prayer vigil for Pham tonight. Pham’s choice of the nursing program showed her dedication, she said in a phone interview.
“She was always smiling. She was always positive,” Wright said. “She’s very private. This must be overwhelming.” Wright is also helping to raise money to help defray any medical costs not covered by her employer and extra costs, such as her dog’s quarantine by the city.