An Atlanta attorney quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis apologized to his fellow plane passengers in an interview aired Friday, and said he was told he wasn't contagious or a threat to anyone.
"I feel awful," Andrew Speaker said, speaking through a mask with ABC's "Good Morning America" at his hospital room in Denver. "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.
"I don't expect those people to ever forgive me. I just hope they understand that I truly never meant them any harm."
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 told that he wasn't contagious or a danger to anyone. Officials said they would rather he didn't fly but didn't forbid it, he said.
His father, also a lawyer, taped that meeting, he said.
"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."
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 didn't 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, 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 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, where doctors put him in an isolation room where he will be treated with oral and intravenous antibiotics.