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Quarantined TB patient is Atlanta lawyer, 31

As a student at the University of Georgia School of Law, Andrew Speaker, far left, was a champion in the National Criminal Justice Mock Trial Advocacy Competition. He is shown here with fellow champions at the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.

ATLANTA —The tuberculosis patient under the first federal quarantine since 1963 is a 31-year-old Atlanta attorney, Andrew Speaker, whose law firm biography says he attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

The patient’s father-in-law works as a microbiologist at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory that studies TB and other bacterial infections.

The father-in-law, Bob Cooksey, said he gave Speaker “fatherly advice” when he learned he contracted the disease.

“I’m hoping and praying that he’s getting the proper treatment, that my daughter is holding up mentally and physically,” Cooksey told The Associated Press. “Had I known that my daughter was in any risk, I would not allow her to travel.”

The son-in-law has said he knew he had TB when he flew from Atlanta to Europe in mid-May for his wedding and honeymoon, but he said he didn’t find out until he was already in Rome that it was an extensively drug-resistant strain considered especially dangerous.

Despite warnings from federal health officials not to board another long flight, he flew home for treatment fearing he wouldn’t survive if he didn’t reach the U.S.

On Thursday, he was flown by a plane registered to Med Air LLC from Atlanta to Denver, accompanied by his wife and federal marshals, to be treated at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center, hospital spokesman William Allstetter said.

He looked healthy and tan when he arrived, and “he said he still felt fine,” Allstetter said.

Doctors plan to begin treating the man immediately with two antibiotics, one oral and one intravenous. He also will undergo a basic physical exam, a test to evaluate how infectious he is and a CT scan and lung X-ray, Allstetter said. Doctors hope to also determine where he contracted the disease.

He will be kept in a special unit with two rooms and a ventilation system, Allstetter said.

“He may not leave that room much for several weeks,” Allstetter said.

According to a biography posted on a Web site connected with Speaker’s law firm, the young personal injury lawyer attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in finance, then attended University of Georgia’s law school.

His father, Ted Speaker, unsuccessfully ran for a Fulton County Superior Court judgeship in 2004, the same year his son was admitted into the Georgia Bar.

Andrew Speaker recently moved from an upscale condominium complex in anticipation of his wedding, former neighbors said. He also wrote in an application to become a board member of his condo association that he was going to Vietnam for five weeks as part of the Rotary club to act as an ambassador.

“He’s a great guy. Gregarious,” said Pam Hood, a former neighbor. “He’s a wonderful guy. Just a very, very pleasant man.”

In a phone interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from an Atlanta hospital earlier this week, he explained that he knew he had TB when he flew from Atlanta to Europe in mid-May for his wedding and honeymoon, but that he didn’t find out until he was already there that it was an extensively drug-resistant strain considered especially dangerous.

Despite warnings from federal health officials not to board another long flight, he flew home for treatment fearing he wouldn’t survive if he didn’t reach the U.S.

Health officials in North America and Europe are now trying to track down about 80 passengers who sat near him on the two trans-Atlantic flights, and they want passenger lists from four shorter flights he took while in Europe. Patients on the shorter flights are not expected to be as much at risk, health officials said.

Among those being tested are more than two dozen University of South Carolina Aiken students, school spokeswoman Jennifer Lake said Thursday. Two were apparently sitting near him, possibly in the same row, she said.

One of those students, Laney Wiggins, said she is awaiting her skin test results, expected Friday.

“I’m very nervous,” Wiggins told The (Columbia) State newspaper. “It’s kind of sad that this is overshadowing the wonderful time we had in Europe.”

The infected man had flown to Paris on May 12 aboard Air France Flight 385, also listed as Delta Air Lines codeshare Flight 8517, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He and his bride also took four shorter flights while in Europe _ Paris to Athens on May 14; Athens to Thira Island May 16; Mykonos Island to Athens May 21; and Athens to Rome May 21 _ but CDC officials said there was less risk of infection during the shorter hops compared to the trans-Atlantic flights, which each lasted eight hours or more.

It was while they were in Rome that he learned further U.S. tests had determined his TB was the rare, extensively drug-resistant form, far more dangerous than he knew. Officials told him turn himself over to Italian health officials and not to fly on any commercial airlines.