E-Mails: TB Patient's Family Little Help

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 13, 2007; 5:32 AM

ATLANTA -- Health officials trying to stop a globetrotting honeymooner with a dangerous form of tuberculosis got little assistance from his lawyer father and his future father-in-law, a TB expert who not only balked at stopping the Greek wedding but went to the ceremony himself, according to e-mails obtained by The Associated Press.

Some of the 181 pages of e-mails, obtained through a public records request, suggest that the 31-year-old Andrew Speaker's father was clipped and combative in phone conversations with health officials.

E-mails from Fulton County officials portray his father-in-law, CDC microbiologist Robert Cooksey, as initially unhelpful, at least before May 22, when tests showed that Speaker had a more dangerous form of TB than previously understood.

"This is terrible news. I hope the father-in-law will be more forthcoming now," reads a May 22 e-mail written by Beverly DeVoe-Payton, director of the Georgia Division of Public Health's tuberculosis program, to other state health officials regarding the new test results.

But CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said Tuesday that Cooksey had already begun to cooperate and provided the agency with Speaker's phone number in Europe.

Speaker, an Atlanta lawyer, sparked an international scare when health officials tried to find _ and isolate _ him because he was infected with an exceptionally dangerous form of TB that is highly resistant to drugs.

He knew he had TB and that it was resistant to some drugs when he left Atlanta, but he did not find out until he was in Europe that it was the highly dangerous form.

In his conversations with health officials, Speaker "placed a lot of emphasis on contagiousness. He asked questions in a way so he could hear what he needed to hear to justify his leaving," Skinner said.

When federal health officials eventually reached him by phone in Europe with the new test results, they warned him not to fly aboard commercial aircraft, and urged him to turn himself in to local health officials.

Instead, Speaker and his bride flew to Montreal, rented a car and drove across the U.S. border, even though officials had flagged his passport. He is now in a Denver hospital.

Dr. Andrew Vernon, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention TB researcher who sees patients at the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, had earlier appealed to Cooksey to help stop the planned wedding in Greece, according to a May 30 e-mail from a Fulton County physician. Cooksey did not put a halt to the plans; instead, he went to the wedding.

Calls to Cooksey's office and home were not immediately returned Tuesday.

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