Every six months, Dr. Bridgette “Jeanne” Billioux gets on a plane to Liberia to study a group of Ebola survivors suffering from headaches, seizures, and memory loss. She’s a clinical fellow at the National Institutes of Health, and is trying to figure out if many Ebola deaths could be tied to neurological complications.
It’s hard work in a country that doesn’t have tools like MRIs and CT scanners, where people present with many unrelated health issues, and where doing a spinal tap might mean exposure to infected fluids. But when her mentor, Dr. Avindra Nath, asked for volunteers to study these survivors and provide them medical care, Billioux didn’t hesitate to raise her hand.
The Louisiana native first became interested in medicine at age 12, after her grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. She chose neurology as her speciality.
“When I saw strokes and seizures in real life, putting the exam together like a puzzle to figure out where the deficits are in the brain, it utterly gripped me,” she said.
Many of her Liberian patients have slowly improved — now she plans to bring some to the NIH for further study. Beyond that, she’s trying to plan a neurology clinic to help train Liberian medical students, since the nation has a dire need of neurologists. “It doesn’t matter how smart students are, if they don’t get exposed to neuroscience, if they don’t get interested,” she said.
— Max Blau