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At the beginning of May, life was good for Andrew Speaker. The young personal injury lawyer was about to start his own practice and was looking forward to his wedding in Greece later that month, followed by a three-week European honeymoon. A month later, Speaker had become the world’s most infamous tuberculosis patient, held under armed guard at Grady Memorial Hospital under the first federal isolation order to be issued in 44 years. At National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, where he was transferred from Grady, he received hate mail and death threats from people whom he said “turned on the news and saw this greedy, self-absorbed attorney.” At a congressional hearing, a representative referred to Speaker as a “walking biological weapon.” “Most of the negative attention was from being an attorney,” he told me over a cheeseburger and fries at the Duluth Marriott. Speaker still maintains he did nothing wrong, other than to overestimate the competence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Speaker contends the CDC caused the international health scare � by misdiagnosing him with XDR, or extensively drug resistant, TB on May 22, by refusing to use one of its planes to ferry him back to the United States after making that diagnosis and then by presenting him as a contagious carrier of a deadly disease starting with the May 29 news conference where it publicized his flight from Rome to Montreal and across the Canadian border. The panicked reaction by the media and the public to the notion that someone boarded an airplane with TB apparently was not warranted. “It is not easy to become infected with tuberculosis. Usually a person has to be close to someone with TB disease for a long period of time,” according to the American Lung Association. One-third of the world carries TB germs, according to the World Health Organization. But 90 percent to 95 percent of those people are not contagious and their TB infection will never become an active disease. TB is a slow-growing bacteria and the disease takes a long time to incubate. Someone infected with TB germs can host them in a dormant state for years. The germs can become active when the host’s immune system is weakened. (For this reason, people whose immune systems have been compromised by the HIV virus are at a higher risk of contracting TB.) Speaker was released from National Jewish on July 26, his treatment successfully completed. He takes 11 pills every morning at 8 a.m., supervised by public health officials who drop by on their way to work � a standard regimen he will follow for the next two years to make sure the TB has been fully eradicated. He’s in excellent health and has gone back to his previous routines, unmasked and unquarantined. But his personal injury law practice is floundering and his life is far from normal. His existing clients have stuck with him but there have been no new clients since the ordeal began. The perception that he’s a selfish jerk who thought nothing of exposing others to a deadly disease lingers. “The CDC told everyone that I only care about myself,” he said. “They made statements they knew were wrong. They intentionally went after my family and our character.” This is particularly galling to him since his doctors think he contracted TB on a March 2006 trip to Vietnam as a goodwill ambassador with the Rotary Club, where he visited schools, orphanages and hospitals to distribute money and rice. His father’s practice has also suffered. Theodore Speaker, also a lawyer, has based his practice for 25 years on referrals from providers of pre-paid legal services. Speaker said those companies stopped referring clients to his father after news of his TB broke because potential clients were afraid they’d catch TB if they came to Ted Speaker’s office, which he shared with his son. Speaker is also being sued in Canada for $1.3 million by eight passengers on his flight from Prague to Montreal for potentially exposing them to TB plus pain and suffering. The brother of one passenger is also suing. Speaker had learned he had a rare, multi-drug resistant strain of TB in early May, less than two weeks before he was planning to get married in Greece in a small wedding. At the May 10 meeting to discuss his treatment, doctors had emphasized that his TB could become incurable if not handled properly. “If it’s not done by people who know what they’re doing, you can build up a resistance to the drugs,” he explained. They told him he must get treatment at National Jewish, which specializes in respiratory diseases, and that it would take about three weeks to ready a bed there and figure out what antibiotics to use. He was told he would not be quarantined in Denver, where he expected to spend two or three weeks in treatment, because he was neither contagious nor a threat to anyone’s health, and he could go about his daily life until then, though doctors said they’d prefer that he not travel to Europe. Speaker concedes he ignored doctors’ advice not to travel abroad, reasoning that the trip would give him ample time to check in to treatment at National Jewish upon his return. “That’s where we left it,” he said. And that was the beginning of what was to become his ordeal. Speaker’s honeymoon was cut short May 22, when a CDC doctor informed him that he had an even more rare and drug-resistant strain of TB � XDR � and asked him to return to the United States immediately. Speaker agreed. The doctor said to call back at the same time the next evening for the travel arrangements. He and his wife canceled a train trip to Florence, Italy, and booked another night in their Rome hotel room to await further instructions. A CDC plane seemed a possibility to get him safely back to the U.S. but the next day he said he was informed the CDC deemed such a trip too expensive. Using a military plane was also ruled out because of the cost. At the June 6 Senate hearing, CDC Director Julie Gerberding testified that her agency elected not to fly Speaker home on its plane because of concerns that he would infect the crew � not the cost. Regardless, at this point Speaker was in a Catch-22. The CDC wouldn’t fly him back to the U.S. and he was told not to take a commercial flight. A CDC doctor told him to charter a private plane, which would cost $100,000 to $140,000, money he said he didn’t have. Staying abroad wasn’t an attractive option, either. Italian authorities were to pick him up the next morning, and he feared being stuck for up to two years in a hospital that wasn’t equipped to treat his rare form of TB. Although the CDC doctor had told him not to fly, Speaker said he also was told he wasn’t contagious. At about 10 p.m. May 22, Speaker and his wife left their hotel room, found an Internet cafe and booked a flight out of Italy. Afraid that he’d be put on a no-fly list in the United States, Speaker booked the next available flight out of Rome to Canada, via Czech Airlines. The couple left first thing the next morning, leaving the Italian health authorities to confront their empty hotel room. Speaker admitted to a moment of fear when going through passport control in Prague, as the specter of indefinite detention in an Eastern European hospital flickered through his mind. But they boarded the plane to Montreal without incident. From there, the two drove across the Canadian border to New York and checked into a hotel for the night. The next morning, May 24, Speaker called the CDC and was told to drive to Bellevue Hospital. At Bellevue, he waited for an hour and said he was then approached by three men “who did not look like they were there to do tests.” They served him with the federal isolation warrant. After three days at Bellevue, where his sputum again tested negative for TB, he was flown to Atlanta on a CDC plane and emerged at Grady to find a press scrum and hospital workers in hazmat suits who escorted him to his room on the TB ward. Armed federal marshals were posted outside his door. Speaker said he and his wife arranged with the CDC to drive from Atlanta to Denver � the CDC again did not want to supply a plane because of the cost, he said � but that his health insurer, Kaiser, agreed to pay for the plane. After a month in Denver thinking he had XDR, Speaker had his diagnosis downgraded back to MDR. He was released July 26. Speaker has done his best to get his side of the story out in an effort to salvage his reputation, appearing on “Good Morning America” with Diane Sawyer on May 4 from his hospital room, on “Larry King Live” and talking to a U.S. Senate committee via phone while he was still in quarantine. But he said the perception lingers that he is harboring a highly contagious and deadly disease that he was willing to inflict on the public. Recently, a Wal-Mart clerk “backed away and slid the receipt over the counter,” Speaker said, after seeing his name on the credit card. He is defending himself pro se in the Canadian suit and spent the weekend before our interview reading through 500 pages of Canadian code to prepare his response to it. He said he was quoted anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to retain a Canadian lawyer � money the 32-year old doesn’t have. I asked Speaker if he had any plans to sue the CDC. “They’re a federal agency. They have immunity,” he said in resignation. “It’s easier to think this guy is a jerk than that a government agency got together to intentionally misinform the public. That’s much harder to believe.” Meredith Hobbs is a reporter with the Fulton County Daily Report, a Recorder affiliate based in Atlanta.

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