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 groom's father, Ted Speaker, was clipped and combative in phone conversations with health officials.
E-mails from Fulton County officials portray groom Andrew Speaker's father-in-law, CDC microbiologist Robert Cooksey, as disappointingly unhelpful, at least before May 22, when tests showed that Andrew 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.
Andrew 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 is was resistant to some drugs when he left Atlanta, but he didn't find out until he was in Europe that it was the highly dangerous form.
When federal health officials eventually reached him by phone with the new test results, they warned him not to fly 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 being treated.
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 them 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.
CDC officials are reviewing Cooksey's conduct as part of an internal review of the case. Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC, has said that Cooksey did help health officials contact Speaker and his new wife in Italy.
Ted Speaker also could not be immediately reached for comment. He did not provide needed information either, according to e-mails from state and Fulton County health officials.
In one e-mail, Dr. David Kim of the CDC summarized a May 22 phone conversation with Ted Speaker this way:
"'I need your assistance to reach out to (Andrew) to get him back to U.S. quickly and safely,'" Kim said he told the elder Speaker.
"'I can't do that. I don't know where he is ... I appreciate your call.' End of call," Kim wrote, summarizing Speaker's response.
Andrew Speaker told a congressional hearing by phone last week that health officials had told him he wasn't contagious a few days before he left Atlanta for the wedding, a meeting he said his father had taped. He has also apologized for the scare, which put dozens of other airline passengers who sat near him through the need for TB testing.