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An anthrax survivor looks back

Anthrax victim Leroy Richmond feels lucky to be alive.  

By Rea Blakey
CNN Medical Unit

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The odds were against Leroy Richmond living to tell his story. He was the first of four Washington D.C.-area postal workers diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.

"I was a victim of circumstance in the beginning," Richmond said. "It's an amazement to me how two of my closest friends that I knew quite well got the anthrax bacteria and died and myself and another person got the same effect from the bacteria and lived."

Richmond spent 27 days in the hospital fighting for his life and he's been on sick leave since then. When he was infected, he was working clean-up detail.

"They knew the postmaster was coming that Thursday," he said. The letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, had been found the week before, he added.

Richmond was infected after a mail-sorting machine was cleaned with a high pressure hose. He was hospitalized a week and two days after the Daschle letter was discovered.

The postal service was waiting for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in Atlanta, Georgia. Unfortunately, the CDC itself was in unchartered territory at the time.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, says authorities learned many lessons during that time. "What we learned from the mail service anthrax attacks is you really [have to] look at the vulnerable people along the chain of exposure," he said.

Richmond recently returned to the Brentwood postal facility where he was infected.

"I think the most important lesson to be learned is that you just can't take things for granted when you get a warning sign that people's lives could be endangered," he said.

Richmond also longs for his life before he was infected. "The shame of it is I'm a person who enjoyed going to work. I never ever regretted getting out of my bed, driving an hour and ten minutes and getting to work. I enjoyed doing what I do and a lot of people are not like that," he says.

Five people died in the U.S. from inhalation anthrax during the fall of 2001.




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