(CNN) — Amber Vinson says she followed all the rules when caring for an Ebola patient. So how did the Texas nurse contract the deadly virus?
“I have no idea,” she told CNN. “I go through it almost daily in my mind: what happened, what went wrong. Because I was covered completely every time. I followed the CDC protocol. … I never strayed. It is a mystery to me.”
Vinson, who was declared Ebola-free last week after treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon in an exclusive interview scheduled to air Thursday night. She described her experience fighting the deadly virus and fired back at critics who said she should never have boarded commercial flights after treating an Ebola patient.
“I’m a nurse. I care. I care for me, I would not put myself in danger. First, I would not take Ebola to my family and my best girlfriends. I would not endanger families across the nation, potentially exposing them to anything,” she said. “I had no symptoms. There was no way. At that time, I could not transmit it.”
The 29-year-old nurse chokes up thinking of the harsh reactions of some people after they learned she had Ebola.
“It’s just not me,” she said. “All I do is care. All I want to do is help. I would never try to hurt anyone.”
Vinson’s diagnosis came amid a wave of national concern about the possible spread of Ebola in the United States, especially after it became known she had flown on two commercial flights after treating Duncan. She became the second person known to have contracted Ebola in the United States, and the second nurse from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas to get the virus after caring for an Ebola patient.
Learning that her colleague, nurse Nina Pham, had contracted Ebola was a shock, she said.
“My heart dropped,” Vinson said. “I was afraid for myself. My first thought was, Nina is a great nurse. I know her nursing. She follows rules and protocol as closely as I do. If this happened to her, it can happen to me. It rocked my world.”
Several days later, Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola after returning to Dallas from a trip to visit family in Ohio, where she was planning her wedding.
Days after being inside a bridal shop, she was isolated in a hospital, fending off the virus. It wasn’t an easy battle, Vinson told CNN.
“It takes so much out of you. It really does. It is very draining. And even now … walking a short distance, I get short of breath,” she said.
There were several particularly rough days, she said.
“You’ve got to force yourself to get up, and forcing yourself takes a lot out of you, too,” she said. “It’s a struggle. You’re fighting for your life.”