Image: National Jewish Hospital
Ed Andrieski  /  AP
The Georgia man suffering from a dangerous form of tuberculosis will be treated at Denver's National Jewish Hospital, which specializes in respiratory disorders, a hospital spokesman said.
updated 5/31/2007 7:29:03 PM ET 2007-05-31T23:29:03

The hospital caring for the Georgia attorney with a rare strain of tuberculosis ranks among the best in the nation for research and treatment of the disease; it was born in an age in which thousands suffering from “consumption” trekked to Colorado’s high, dry air in hopes of a cure.

Andrew Speaker, 31, arrived at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center on Thursday. He was quarantined Friday, after his return from his European honeymoon, in the first such action taken by the federal government since 1963.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands flocked to Denver and Colorado Springs, believing their illness could be cured in part by the state’s fresh air. Tuberculosis went by the name “consumption” in those days, presumably because its symptoms consumed those who had it. Denver’s first hostel for TB patients opened in 1860, a year after the city’s founding.

The need to treat these patients, especially those who spent their last pennies on a one-way ticket, eventually led to National Jewish’s opening. The hospital has since treated patients with lung diseases from around the world, including survivors of a World War II concentration camp who contracted TB.

TB patients who sought a Colorado cure included gunslinger Doc Holliday, who died of the disease in 1887. In the early 20th century, many TB patients — including those at National Jewish and other hospitals — slept on porches.

No fresh air
Speaker’s treatment will be different. He’ll likely spend several weeks in a drab hospital room with a high-tech vent and an ultraviolet light that kills bacteria as it is sucked out of the room. His only view of the outdoors will be the wall of a building, a patch of grass, and some patio tables and chairs on the ground below. Visitors will be advised to wear face masks, doctors said.

Speaker, who was flown from Atlanta to Denver on Thursday accompanied by federal marshals, will be kept in one of five isolation rooms, which are in their own cluster with a nurse’s station. There are no plans to keep an armed guard outside the door, but police will be called if the man tries to leave, said Dr. Charles Daley, head of the infectious disease division.

The rooms in the cluster are similar to typical hospital rooms, and there are no special access protocols or locked doors.

Normally, patients with similar diagnoses — Speaker is believed to have a low level of TB in his system — would be allowed to leave the room while in the hospital. But doctors plan to keep him in the room for the immediate future until they can perform more tests, officials said.

In the 1800s, Colorado competed with other western states to lure TB patients and their families, seeing them as a way to boost their populations and economies, said Dr. Charles Scoggin of the Center of the American West.

Colorado gained an edge in part because the railroads advertised it widely, Scoggin said. “It was classic Western boosterism,” said Scoggin, formerly of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Over the years, National Jewish came to specialize in respiratory, immune and allergic disorders. Once supported by the national Jewish orgnanization B’nai B’rith, the hospital is not affiliated with any religion. U.S. News & World Report has ranked it the nation’s top respiratory hospital for nine straight years.

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