Dallas nurse who overcame Ebola has ‘my best friend at my side again’

After spending weeks battling Ebola, Dallas nurse Nina Pham has her health back. And her dog.

On Saturday morning, Pham was reunited with Bentley, the brown and white Cavalier King Charles spaniel who has become an international celebrity.

While Pham was being treated, first at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and then at a National Institutes of Health clinic in Bethesda, Md., Bentley was confined for care and observation at Hensley Field, an armed forces reserve complex in Grand Prairie. The dog has been declared Ebola-free.

“After I was diagnosed with Ebola, I didn’t know what would happen to Bentley, or if he would have the virus,” Pham said at a news conference Saturday morning. “I was frightened that I could possibly ... not know what would happen to one of my best friends.”

Pham, a nurse at Presbyterian, had been caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian Ebola patient who died in the hospital on Oct. 8.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that when Pham, 26, was first diagnosed with the virus, he met with her parents. “We talked about serology and taking care of Nina,” Jenkins said. “But the very next thing is, we talked about making sure that Bentley was well taken care of.”

Pham and Bentley were separated on Oct. 10, when she was placed in isolation.

Bentley was cared for by Dallas Animal Services, in partnership with the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This was an exceptional challenge,” said Jody Jones, director of Dallas Animal Services. “And it has been one of the most gratifying experiences, I think, the entire care team has had.” She said all were thrilled at being able to keep Bentley “safe and healthy and happy during his stay here ... as well as being able to reunite him with Nina.”

Dr. Debra Zoran, who teaches small animal medicine at the A&M veterinary school, played with Bentley every day. She said that wasn’t easy in full protective gear, but she managed.

“Not being able to do our normal physicals, but still being able to observe his behaviors — how he acted coming out of the cage, how he ate his food, or whether he was interested in playing every day — that’s how we informed ourselves,” she said.

Jenkins said officials were asked the same question every day: How’s Bentley?

It was a question that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was happy to answer on Saturday.

“Bentley is alive and well in the city of Dallas,” the mayor said. He added: “There were a lot of human beings that spent a lot of time making sure this dog was safe, and that the community was safe as well.”

While Rawlings held Bentley, Pham expressed her gratitude to the pup’s medical team.

“Thank you again for helping take care of Bentley over the last 21 days, caring for him as if he was your own and showing America that compassion and love are abundant and alive,” she said.

Having “my best friend at my side again,” Pham said, was “yet another reminder of hope and encouragement for me moving forward.”

Then she added: “Right now, I am just excited to take Bentley home so we can start picking out his gifts for his 2-year birthday party this month.”

Before nurse and dog departed, they were presented with a basket of dog toys.