Exclusive: TB Patient Asks Forgiveness but Defends Travel

For better or worse: Newlywed defends decision to travel abroad.

ByABC News via logo
February 10, 2009, 9:29 AM

June 1, 2007 — -- In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, tuberculosis patient Andrew Speaker said he never thought others were at risk for catching his deadly disease.

"I'm very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone," Speaker said from his isolation room in the National Jewish Hospital in Denver. "I think if people look at my life, that's not not how I live my life."

Speaker, a 31-year-old lawyer from Atlanta, learned he had TB in January. In May, doctors realized his strain, known as XDR-TB, was extensively drug-resistant. He then boarded a commercial flight to Paris May 12, and returned from Europe 12 days later on a flight from Prague, Czech Republic, to Canada.

Speaker said he never thought he was sick enough to infect others. He felt fine two weeks ago, walking around, jogging and trying cases as usual. He told Sawyer he had a tape recording of a meeting with health officials that he said would confirm his view that it was OK to travel in his condition.

"I hope they understand, based on what I was told 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. And that I never would have put my family at risk and my daughter at risk."

Doctors say they told Speaker not to travel. Speaker said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations advised him against travel but didn't stop him.

Speaker's father-in-law, Bob Cooksey, is a CDC microbiologist specializing in the spread of TB and other bacteria. He said only that he gave Speaker "fatherly advice" when he learned the young man had contracted the disease.

"Everyone knew. The CDC knew, doctors knew, Kaiser knew. They said, 'We would prefer you not go on the trip,'" he said. "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.'"