At first glance, nurse Nina Pham's return home to Texas after beating the often-deadly Ebola virus failed to raise my GetReligion antenna.
A medical story? Definitely.
A political story? Perhaps, given Pham's Oval Office hug with President Barack Obama.
But a religion story? Probably not.
The straightforward lede of The Dallas Morning News' front-page story on Saturday gave no indication of a faith angle:
Nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S., returned home to North Texas late Friday with a clean bill of health, reassurance from President Barack Obama and the promise of a reunion with her dog, Bentley.
CareFlite pilot Jason Davis confirmed about midnight Friday that Pham had arrived at Fort Worth's Meacham International Airport: "She seemed good -- super nice family. She's in good spirits."
Pham, one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurses who caught Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, was declared virus-free and sent home by the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Officials also confirmed Friday that her colleague Amber Vinson has tested free of the disease, but they said they didn’t know when she’d be ready to leave Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Before Pham visited the Oval Office and got a hug from Obama, she expressed gratitude as she left the NIH facility.
But then I read Pham's own words — the next two paragraphs of the story:
“I would first and foremost like to thank God, my family, and friends. Throughout this ordeal, I have put my trust in God and my medical team,” she said. “I am on my way back to recovery, even as I reflect on how many others have not been so fortunate.”
Pham, 26, said she felt “fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” praised the care she received in Dallas and Maryland, asked for her privacy and said all she really wants to do is come home and be reunited with her 1-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
After seeing the "God" quote way up high in the Morning News' report, I was curious about two things: 1. Who wrote the story? 2. Would God make just a cameo appearance, or would the newspaper elaborate on the faith angle?
I smiled when I saw the name of the lead writer: Jeffrey Weiss, a Morning News veteran who was one of the nation's premier religion writers during his time on the Godbeat.
Since I know Jeffrey, I couldn't resist asking him about the story. Here's part of what he told me:
That byline was more credit than I deserved. I was rewrite, assembling the story from feeds. But I will say that I absolutely included Pham's God references in part because of my background. She made a point of it so I figured that was worth noting. And I even thought about GR (GetReligion) as I did it. ...
I suppose my choice did have something to do with my years of writing about people whose faith was important to them. It was clearly important to her.
As for my second question, the Morning News provided some nice religion details later in the piece:
Parishioners at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Fort Worth included prayers of thanks in their evening Mass on Friday. Pham attended the church growing up, and her family still does.
Deacon Michael Hoang said Pham’s mother texted him early Friday with the news that the nurse was going home. He happily started spreading the news among the churchgoers.
“Everything happens for a purpose,” Hoang said. “God allowed this to happen so we can recognize all the wonderful people out there … willing to help other people.”
After the Vietnamese-language Mass, parishioners lingered to talk about the good news, smiles all around.
I asked Jeffrey if it was his idea to send a reporter to the church:
Oh, no. We've been on that from the day she was identified.
Religion figures have been key in the coverage. Rev. George Mason at Wilshire Baptist was a major player in the coverage of (Ebola victim Thomas Eric) Duncan and his family.
Churches have been an important conduit in finding people who know the patients. I had nothing to do with most of this, however. Reaching out to churches and religious leaders just emerged from the reporting. By lots of folks who were not me.
Jeffrey then made a statement straight out of the GetReligion handbook (with no prompting on my part, I promise):
As we've always said, religion is not separate from the news on many stories. It's woven inextricably. DMN cast of thousands did a good job of recognizing the elements as they presented.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Kudos to Jeffrey and his colleagues for recognizing — and highlighting — the important religion angle on this ongoing story.
No ghosts to see here.