‘I hope they forgive me’
Vail CO, Colorado
DENVER (AP) ” The Atlanta lawyer quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis apologized to fellow airline passengers in an interview aired Friday, and insisted he was told before he set out for his wedding in Europe that he wasn’t a threat to anyone.
“I’ve lived in this state of constant fear and anxiety and exhaustion for a week now, and to think that someone else is now feeling that, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way. It’s awful,” Andrew Speaker, speaking through a face mask, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” from his hospital room in Denver.
Meanwhile, questions arose as to whether the wedding even took place. The mayor of the island of Santorini in Greece, Angelos Rousso, told The Associated Press: “There was no wedding. They came for a marriage but they did not have the required papers.” He said the couple stayed in a hotel for three days and then left.
In the TV interview, Speaker, wearing street clothes, repeatedly apologized to the dozens of airline passengers and crew members now anxiously awaiting the results of their TB tests.
“I don’t expect for people to ever forgive me. I just hope that they understand that I truly never meant to put them in harm,” he said, his voice cracking.
Speaker, 31, said he, his doctors and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all knew he had TB that was resistant to front-line drugs before he flew to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon last month. But he said he was advised then that he was not contagious or a danger to anyone.
Officials told him they would prefer he didn’t fly, but no one ordered him not to, he said. Speaker said his father, also a lawyer, taped that meeting.
Speaker was in Europe when he learned tests showed he had, not just TB, but an especially dangerous, extensively drug-resistant strain.
“He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine. Cetron said Wednesday that in conversations between health officials and Speaker before the flight, “they clearly told him not to travel,” but “there were no legal orders in place preventing his travel, and no laws were broken.”
Speaker, his new wife and her 8-year-old daughter were already in Europe when the CDC contacted him and told him to turn himself in immediately at a clinic there and not take another commercial flight.
He said he felt as if the CDC had suddenly “abandoned him.” At that point, he said, he believed if he didn’t get to the specialized clinic in Denver, he would die. If doctors in Europe tried to treat him and it went wrong, he said, “it’s very real that I could have died there.”
Even though U.S. officials had put Speaker on a warning list, he caught a flight to Montreal and then drove across the U.S. border on May 24 at Champlain, N.Y. A border inspector who checked him disregarded a computer warning to stop Speaker, officials said Thursday.
The unidentified inspector later said the infected man seemed perfectly healthy and that he thought the warning was merely “discretionary,” officials briefed on the case told the AP. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation. The inspector has since been removed from border duty.
The next day, Speaker became the first infected person quarantined by the U.S. government since 1963.
Speaker’s new father-in-law, Robert C. Cooksey, is a CDC microbiologist whose specialty is TB and other bacteria. But he said neither he nor his CDC lab was the source of Speaker’s TB.
Jason Vik, a 21-year-old business student also on the flight, said he had been through the same emotions Speaker named and was treated like an outcast. During a television interview, the people doing his makeup wore face masks, he said.
“There are lot of people that are just afraid of us. It’s ridiculous and ignorant,” he said.
Asked about the apology, Vik said, “People have to still remember that this is going to affect us for the next five, 10 years of our lives because we’re going to have to keep getting tests even if we’re negative just because we were on the plane with this guy.”
Speaker’s new wife, Sarah, fought back tears as she told ABC about the horrible things said had heard said about her husband: that he was a terrorist, that he should have been eradicated.
She said she has tested negative for TB, despite being closer to him over the past month than anyone, and she is praying no one else tests positive for the disease.
Doctors hope to determine where Speaker contracted the disease, which has been found around the world and exists in pockets in Russia and Asia. The tuberculosis was discovered by accident when Speaker had a chest X-ray in January for a rib injury, doctors said.
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