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Ebola nurse Amber Vinson: I wasn't reckless, I listened to CDC

Amber Vinson, 29, the Dallas nurse who was being treated for Ebola, speaks at a news conference after being discharged from Emory University Hospital, on Oct. 28, 2014, in Atlanta.
Amber Vinson, 29, the Dallas nurse who was being treated for Ebola, speaks at a news conference after being discharged from Emory University Hospital, on Oct. 28, 2014, in Atlanta.

Ebola survivor Amber Vinson spoke out against the critics who called her careless and reckless after she was diagnosed with the deadly virus just a day after flying on a commercial flight.

“I'm an [Intensive Care Unit] nurse; I embrace protocol and guidelines and structure, because in my day-to-day nursing, it is a matter of life and death, and I respect that fact,” Vinson told TODAY on Thursday. “I would never go outside of guidelines or boundaries or something directly from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] telling me I can't go [or] I can't fly. I wouldn't do it.” 

Vinson said on TODAY that she’d worked with the CDC and hospital officials every step of the way and they’d approved all her travel plans in advance. Her side of the story sheds light on just how unprepared the CDC was for both the highly contagious disease and the huge public anxiety.

It comes just as Republicans vow on the heels of their big midterm victory to reform disease control efforts, saying the “antiquated government bureaucracy” is “ill-equipped to serve a citizenry facing 21st-century challenges.”

Photo essay: Ebola continues its deadly march

“I was never told that I couldn’t travel,” she said of her trip to Ohio to visit her family and plan her wedding. “I talked to my ICU management team. I actually called in [that] Monday to verify that I was permitted to travel, and then again I was at work again on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I talked to management in person and they said the CDC said it was OK to go.”

While in Cleveland, Vinson said she learned that a fellow nurse had been diagnosed with Ebola.

“When I heard about my colleague Nina [Pham] coming down with that virus I was floored. 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 can,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer.

“Because I was so afraid I did ask them – is there anything you guys can do to send for me? Do I need to leave earlier?” Vinson recalled. She eventually travelled back to Dallas earlier than planned as a precaution; once she was diagnosed; health officials said she shouldn’t have flown and people across the country slammed her for putting others at risk. Her family later released a statement explaining that the CDC had signed off on all the travel plans she was being personally blamed for.

“I felt terrible,” Vinson said on TODAY.

As for how she contracted Ebola, it’s not clear but she did say she was not well trained before treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan is the only person to die on U.S. soil so far from the disease.

“We did not get much training. The first time I put on the protective equipment, I was heading into take care of the patient,” Vinson said. “So we didn’t have excessive training where we could don and doth the protective equipment till we got a level of being comfortable with it." 

The CDC has admitted that early on in the disease’s appearance in the U.S. there wasn’t a proper understanding of how to put on and take off the protective gear and that they suspect this may be responsible for Pham and Vinson’s contraction of the deadly virus. Both survived and have since been declared Ebola-free by health officials.

While there is just one Ebola patient being treated in the country—Dr. Craig Spencer in New York City—the deadly virus is still raging in West Africa, where nearly 5,000 people have died. The United Nations official charged with fighting the disease said he doesn’t yet have the resources he needs, news that only underlines to the world’s flawed response to the disease.