Atlanta attorney quarantined with dangerous form of tuberculosis apologizes to his fellow plane passengers

An Atlanta attorney quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis apologized to his fellow plane passengers in an interview.

"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 told ABC television's "Good Morning America" from his hospital room in Denver.

Sitting in street clothes but speaking through a face mask, he repeatedly apologized to the airline passengers and crew members now anxiously awaiting their own test results because of the exposure to him.

"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 before he flew to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon last month. But he said he was advised that he was not contagious or a danger to anyone. Officials said they would rather he did not fly but no one ordered him not to, he said.

He said his father, also a lawyer, taped that meeting.

"My father said, 'OK, now are you saying, prefer not to go on the trip because he's a risk to anybody, or are you simply saying that to cover yourself?' And they said, we have to tell you that to cover ourself, but he's not a risk."

Dr. Steven Katkowsky, director of the Fulton County Department of Health & Wellness, said Speaker was told in early May not to travel to Europe: "He was told traveling is against medical advice." Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, said once Speaker was already in Europe, "He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back."

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.

Speaker said he felt as if the CDC had suddenly "abandoned him." He said he believed if he did not get to the specialized clinic in Denver, he would die.

"Before I left, I knew that it was made clear to me, that in order to fight this, I had one shot, and that was going to be in Denver," he said. 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, New York. 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 Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation.

The inspector ran Speaker's passport through a computer, and a warning including instructions to hold the traveler, don a protective mask in dealing with him, and telephone health authorities popped up, officials said. About a minute later, Speaker was instead cleared to continue on his journey, according to officials familiar with the records. The inspector has since been removed from border duty.

Colleen Kelley, president of the union that represents customs and border agents, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said "public health issues were not receiving adequate attention and training" within the agency.

The next day, Speaker became the first infected person to be quarantined by the U.S. government since 1963.

He was flown by medical transport Thursday to National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, where doctors put him in an isolation room where he will be treated with oral and intravenous antibiotics.

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.

The disclosure that the patient is a lawyer and specifically a personal injury lawyer _ outraged many people on the Internet and elsewhere. Some travelers who flew on the same planes with Speaker angrily accused him of selfishly putting hundreds of people's lives in danger.

"It's still very scary," said 21-year-old Laney Wiggins, one of more than two dozen University of South Carolina-Aiken students who are getting skin tests for TB. "That is an outrageous number of people that he was very reckless with their health. It's not fair. It's selfish."

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.

"Imagine sitting in a foreign country with your husband and your government saying they were going to leave you there," she said through tears.

She said she has tested negative for TB, despite being closer to him over the past month than anyone, and she is praying that no one they came in contact with would test positive for the disease.

Both Speaker and his father-in-law said they did not believe he was a danger when he left for Europe.

"I never would have put my family at risk, and my daughter at risk. I repeatedly asked my doctors, 'Is my family at risk? Is anybody at risk of this?"' Speaker said. "They told me I wasn't contagious and I wasn't dangerous."

Speaker said he and his wife were "scared out of our minds" at the prospect of being indefinitely placed in an Italian hospital and dying there.

"In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best decision, but I did ask if it was voluntary. And in my mind, I thought that if I went there, if I waited until they showed up, that meant I was going to die," Speaker said.

"I know people will judge it," he said. "Truly, in our minds, we were told we were not a threat to the people around us and we wanted to get home.

"I just hope they can forgive me," he said.

Dr. Charles Daley, chief of the National Jewish Hospital's infectious-disease division, said he is optimistic Speaker can be cured because he appears to be in the early stages of the disease.

He is "a young, healthy individual" who is "doing extremely well," Dr. Gwen Huitt said Thursday.

"By conventional methods that we traditionally use in the public health arena ... he would be considered low infectivity at this point in time," she said. "He is not coughing, he is healthy, he does not have a fever."

Doctors hope to determine where he 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, Huitt said.