Andrew Speaker says doctors told him he didn't pose a risk to others

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 01, 2007 10:00 AM
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Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta lawyer who is carrying a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, has apologized to those he may have infected after he took two international flights during his wedding and honeymoon.

“I’m very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone,” Speaker, 31, looking tan and healthy, told Diane Sawyer on Friday’s Good Morning America. “I think if people look at my life, that’s not and not how I live my life.”

But, he also insists doctors told him it was safe for him to travel to Europe and he never thought others were at risk for catching his deadly disease. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tracking down passengers who may have come into contact with Speaker.)

“I hope they understand, based on what I was told, I didn’t think I was making that gamble,” he said. “I truly believe that there is a misunderstanding of how we entered into all of this. I hope they understand that at every turn it was conveyed to me that my family, my wife, my daughter, no one was at risk – and that I was not contagious. … I never would have put my family at risk and my daughter at risk.”

Speaker, wearing a surgical mask, gave the interview from his isolation room in the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, where he is being treated. He said he has received anonymous death threats, and that he has a tape recording of a meeting with health officials that will back up his claim that health officials told him he was fine to travel.

He also said he never felt sick enough to infect others and that two weeks ago he was involved in his typical activities: walking around, jogging and trying cases – despite being told, in January, he had TB. Last month, doctors learned that his particular strain, known as XDR-TB, was extensively resistant to drugs.

Despite his condition, Speaker boarded a commercial flight to Paris on May 12, returning from Europe 12 days later on a flight from Prague, Czech Republic, that landed in Canada.

Speaker’s father-in-law, Bob Cooksey – a CDC microbiologist, among whose specialties are TB and other bacteria – provided Speaker with “fatherly advice” upon learning his son-in-law was infected.

“Everyone knew,” said Speaker. “And the CDC knew, doctors knew, Kaiser [Permanente, a health-care provider] knew. They said, ‘We would prefer you not go on the trip.’ And that’s when my father said, ‘OK, are you saying because he’s a risk to anybody or are you simply saying it to cover yourself?’ And they said, ‘We have to tell you that to cover ourselves, but he’s not a risk.’ ”

Speaker said the CDC contacted him in Rome and told him he should cancel his commercial fight plans, but no assistance was provided and he could not afford the $100,000 required to charter a private jet to the Denver facility where he could receive treatment.

“Before I left, it was made clear to me in order to fight this I had one shot and that was here,” he said in his hospital room. “I had one shot at this and if I didn’t get right treatment, CDC sends testing out here, so they can pick the right drugs to mix, and if I was somewhere where they got it wrong, that was it, they blew my last shot.”

He added, “In hindsight, you can try and say maybe I could have planned something out, maybe could have raised money. [But] understand at this whole time everyone told me I’m not contagious and no threat to anyone.”