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FORT WORTH, Texas — An American doctor who contracted the Ebola virus felt a deep calling to work in Liberia and was exhausted after months of treating patients with the deadly disease.

Kent Brantly's mother, Jan Brantly, says her 33-year-old son's "heart is in Africa." She says he comes from a long line of physicians and missionaries.

The director of maternal-child health at JPS Health Network where Brantly completed his residency just months before heading to West Africa has been in touch by phone and email.

Dr. David Mcray says Brantly had been working for months when he contracted the disease. Mcray says Brantly has told him he is "terrified."

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Mcray says Brantly's prognosis is grave. The doctor is suffering fever, headache and abdominal pain in an isolation unit for Ebola patients on the outskirts of Liberia's capital.

Friends and colleagues say Brantly went to Liberia to become a medical missionary for Samaritan's Purse. He was practicing family medicine when Ebola patients began showing up at his hospital.

"As the epidemic began to unfold, Kent found himself in a very difficult circumstance," said Mccray. "He was asked to serve as the medical director of the isolation unit for Ebola."

The biggest-ever outbreak of the disease has already claimed more than 670 lives in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

McRay helped train Brantly, who graduated from residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth last summer.

Despite extreme precautions — including a full body suit and strict decontamination protocols — the 33-year-old physician fell ill last week with what was at first thought to be malaria.

"His symptoms developed on Wednesday, with fever, headache, abdominal pain ... and have progressed," Mccray said.

Colleagues at JPS say they are praying for Brantly with a compassionate heart.

"He has deep faith, and he's leaning on that," said JPS family medicine Dr. Jason Brewington. "He's leaning on that ... his church family."

From his bed in isolation — where he and Samaritan's Purse colleague Nancy Writebol are both being treated for Ebola symptoms — Brantly sent this message back to his friends at JPS:

"I'm praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease. Please continue to pray along with me and pray for my friend Nancy who is also very sick, and for the doctors who are taking care of us. Thank you all so much. Peace, Kent."

Brantly insists that there was no breach of his safety gear while treating Ebola patients, so it is possible his infection came from exposure to the general population in Liberia away from the hospital.

The doctor's wife and children had been with him in Liberia, but they are now in Texas, where they learned about Brantly's diagnosis.

They left Africa several days before Brantly fell ill, and health authorities say their risk of exposure to the disease is low to non-existent, and that the risk to the general public is nil. Family members are being monitored by state health officials as a precaution.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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