Nina Pham

“I'm Not Careless”: Ebola Nurse Amber Vinson Defends Flying

Vinson: "I'm not careless. I'm not reckless"

A nurse who was infected with Ebola after treating a sick patient said she didn't have enough training beforehand on how to protect herself.

"The first time that I put on the protective equipment, I was heading in to take care of the patient," Amber Vinson told NBC's "Today" show in an interview broadcast Thursday.

Vinson was one of the more than 70 medical personnel who were involved in the care of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. After being sent home from the emergency room Sept. 26, Duncan returned two days later and was quickly diagnosed with the virus. He died Oct. 8.

"We didn't have excessive training where we could don and doff, put on and take off the protective equipment, till we got a level of being comfortable with it," Vinson said. "I didn't have that, and I think that's very important for hospitals across the nation, big and small."

Vinson flew Oct. 13 on a commercial jet from Cleveland to Dallas, one day before feeling the first symptoms of her virus. She said in the interview Thursday that she monitored her temperature and checked in with health officials before flying. She said reports that she felt sick while traveling were false.

"When you decided to come back to Dallas, did you call anyone and say, 'Look, Nina Pham has come down with Ebola, I'm about to come back to Dallas on a commercial plane, is that OK?'" Today's Matt Lauer asked.

"Once Nina came down with it, my contact at the health department called me and gave me a list of things to look out for, symptoms to look out for and numbers to call if I showed any symptoms. I never had a number to call the CDC directly. I would always call my contact at the health department," Vinson said.

"And then when I was in Ohio, and I was scheduled to leave, because I was so afraid of what could potentially happen, I did ask them, 'Is there anything that you guys can do to send for me? Do I need to leave earlier?' Because you know, I was worried," Vinson said.

Vinson was cleared to fly that day, which ultimately landed her and fellow passengers on the Ebola watch list.

"So you took a lot of steps, a lot of precautions, and I'm sure you read some of the reports that said, 'This Amber Vinson was a nurse, and how could she have gotten on that plane? It was careless and reckless.' How did that make you feel?" Lauer asked.

"It made me feel terrible, because that's not me. I'm not careless. I'm not reckless. I'm an ICU nurse. I embrace protocol, guidelines and structure. Because in my day to day nursing, it is a matter of life and death. And I respect that fact. I would never go outside of guidelines or boundaries or something directly from the CDC telling me that I can't go, I can't fly," Vinson said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has acknowledged that Vinson wasn't stopped from flying. CDC Director Tom Frieden later said that was a mistake on the agency's part.

Vinson attended to Duncan on Sept. 30, the day he tested positive for Ebola, according to medical records that Duncan's family released to The Associated Press. Like Pham, the reports note that Vinson wore protective gear and a face shield, hazardous materials suit, and protective footwear. At the time, Duncan's body fluids were highly infectious if someone made contact with them. At one point, Vinson inserted a catheter into Duncan.

She said she became fearful after learning that fellow nurse Nina Pham, who also treated Duncan, was suspected of having Ebola.

"I was floored," she said in the interview. "I was afraid for myself and my family because I did everything that I was instructed to do every time and I felt like if Nina can get it, any one of us could have gotten it."

Vinson said Thursday that she feels good, but still gets tired sometimes. Asked whether she would be willing to treat another Ebola patient, Vinson said "absolutely."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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