October 22, 2014 05:00 PM

Nina Pham was just four years out of nursing school, knew little about Ebola beyond what she had studied in class and read about in the 1994 bestseller The Hot Zone when patient Thomas Eric Duncan was brought to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where she worked.

But, with her reputation for compassionate caring, she was tapped to care for Duncan, 42, a Liberian national who had unwittingly brought the virus to the U.S. when he arrived in Dallas on Sept. 29.

“It wasn t just her job,” Pham’s former classmate at Texas Christian University, Lacey Mabry, tells PEOPLE. “It was her calling to help this person.” Duncan died Oct. 8.

Now, Pham is fighting for her life in a special isolation unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD after contracting the virus herself. In news that is sure to cheer her family, the NIH said Oct. 22 that her condition had been upgraded to “good” from fair.

Her fellow nurse, Amber Vinson, 29, who also is believed to have contracted the virus while caring for Duncan, is “doing okay,” at Emory University Medical Center, Vinson’s mom, Debra Berry, told ABC News Oct. 21.

Her daughter, Berry said, is “just trying to get stronger. We talk to her when she’s not trying to sleep or avoid phone calls.”

Vinson’s family and friends were stung by suggestions that Vinson, who volunteered to care for Duncan, had been reckless in flying to Cleveland Columbus Day weekend for a weekend of wedding planning with her mother. Vinson checked with the CDC three times before flying, sourcetk.

“She’s infected for doing something so selfless. We should be applauding her courage,” Vinson’s friend Emilia Sykes, tells PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, Pham’s church, Our Lady of Fatima in Fort Worth, is planning a fundraiser to help the family. Nina’s mom, Diana, “asks that we continue to pray.”

With reporting by Tara Fowler and Darla Atlas in Dallas.

For more of PEOPLE’s special report on Ebola in America, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday and follow breaking updates here on people.com.

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