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Reports Say US Journalist with Ebola Hailed as 'Reincarnated Tibetan Lama'

An ambulance transports Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia, to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Oct. 6, 2014.

An ambulance transports Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia, to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Oct. 6, 2014.

The American journalist infected with Ebola while working as a freelance cameraman for NBC News in Liberia reportedly has close ties with Tibet and has been hailed as a reincarnation of a Tibetan spiritual leader, known as a "lama," according to news reports.

The Associated Press reported that Ashoka Mukpo was just a few months old in 1981 when he was recognized by another Buddhist lama as the ninth Khamnyon Tulku, or reincarnated lama. Mukpo's older half-brother, Gesar, also was named a tulku.

Mukpo was raised in the U.S. by his British mother, Diana Mukpo, and her then-husband, the late Tibetan Buddhist leader Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Diana married Trungpa, founder of the Shambhala community that spread Buddhism in the West, when she was just 16 years old.

While Mukpo's biological father was Dr. Mitchell Levy — a follower of Trungpa who had a romantic relationship with Diana — the two did not marry until after Trungpa's death in 1987.

While alive, Trungpa raised Mukpo as his own son.

From Ebola Observer to Victim

NBC News hired Mukpo in Liberia just last Tuesday. No stranger to the country, Mukpo spent two years working with a human rights group in the West African nation, but he had returned home to the northeastern U.S. state of Rhode Island during the summer.

Diana, who spoke to VOA's Tibetan Service Monday by phone, says her son was compelled to cover scene on the ground in Liberia.

"When he heard about the Ebola breakout, he thought the most important thing he could do would be to go back there and to film it, so he could document the problem to bring the attention to people in the United States, so that they would get more help in Liberia," she said.

What Mukpo did not realize then is that the attention he would bring would be focused on his own battle against the disease.

Diana tells VOA her son believes he may have contracted the virus while helping disinfect a car in which someone had died from Ebola.

"Even though he had protective clothing on," she said, "he thinks a splash might have come through."

Eye on Recovery

Mukpo was transferred from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, to a hospital in the central U.S. state of Nebraska, where he is now undergoing treatment. He arrived in Nebraska by private plane Monday, and was able to walk out and wave to his parents and girlfriend as he was loaded into an ambulance.

The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha is the same facility that successfully treated an American doctor infected with Ebola last month, but Diana says her son is not being given the same experimental drug administered to Dr. Rick Sacra. Sacra was hospitalized again Saturday in Massachusetts with a fever and cough, but he was released on Monday after being treated for respiratory problems. Doctors said he tested negative for the Ebola virus.

Meanwhile, Diana says she and her husband were able to talk to their son, still struggling with Ebola, via video link.

She said he is scared but determined to recover.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press.