This year instead of blowing out candles on his 25th birthday, Gil Gildner was stepping into a hazmat suit.
Gildner, who graduated from Harding in 2011, contracts with nonprofit organizations to produce documentaries and photographs. When a charity in Charlotte, N.C. called Silent Images asked him to travel to Liberia and document the Ebola outbreak a few weeks ago, Gildner said he did not hesitate even for a second.
“David Johnson, the founder of Silent Images, gave me a call on Saturday afternoon,” Gildner said. “He said the words ‘You know the Ebola crisis in Liberia …’ and I immediately asked when I was flying out.”
Gildner flew to Monrovia, Liberia, where he shot both pictures and four different micro documentaries of the Ebola victims. To ensure his safety, Gildner was subjected to a series of precautions.
“There’s no handshakes, hugs, or any physical contact whatsoever in Liberia anymore,” Gildner said. “I washed my hands and boot soles with chlorine solution every time I entered or left a building, and at most doorways a guard is stationed with a laser thermometer to check temperatures. When entering the Ebola unit, I wore PPE (personal protective equipment) which is basically a hazmat suit consisting of a full-body Tyvek suit, boots, three pairs of gloves, two masks, two hoods and goggles. It was extremely hot, and when in the unit, I wasn’t allowed to adjust anything.”
Gildner said at times the horror he encountered when recording the documentaries became overwhelming.
“Liberia is hell,” Gildner said. “The time I spent in the Ebola unit, walking through in a hazmat suit with a GoPro, is perhaps the most horrific thing I’ve seen in my life. I made it through everything for about an hour and a half. Then my vision started narrowing and I became nauseous. I was about to pass out, so I had to get out of there before I vomited inside the suit. It took fifteen minutes to spray me down with chlorine and take off the multiple layers, but it seemed like an eternity.”
As of Thursday, Oct. 16, there are now two confirmed cases of Ebola in Dallas, Texas. President Obama declared the outbreak a national security priority and said he plans to combat the disease, according to an article on cnn.com.
“If ever there were a public health emergency deserving of an urgent, strong and coordinated international response, this is it,” the President said.
Freshman nursing major Mieka Wilcox said the effects of Ebola reach beyond Liberia and even Africa.
“It could affect the way we travel to and from Africa, the way we interact with people from (Liberia) and also has a huge effect on our healthcare systems and the way they operate,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said she feels Americans have a responsibility to send aid to those who are suffering from the disease, and she admires Gildner’s willingness to document Ebola and spread awareness about the terror it is causing.
“I support him, because I think it is important for us to be informed on how bad the situation is to be able to get involved to help support those families who have been affected,” Wilcox said. “I feel if those countries had people from America coming to help them, it could help contain the disease.”
Gildner said his friends and family are accustomed to his traveling to developing countries, so they were not fazed by his decision to go to Liberia.
Not everyone was in support of his decision to travel to Liberia.
“KATV ran a story called ‘Ebola Fears Spread To Arkansas’ without interviewing me or even notifying me,” Gildner said. “I literally woke up in the middle of the night to dozens of messages from friends and strangers alike. Some were encouraging and others told me I had to ‘suffer the consequences’ and ‘stay in Africa.’ I wrote a series of pretty stiff letters, and they finally pulled the story.”
Despite the potential dangers involved in his job, Gildner said he would welcome further opportunities for world travel.
“I’d go again in a heartbeat,” Gildner said. “For me, it would have been a mistake to not take the opportunity: go hard or go home.”