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Infected lung tissue removed from TB traveler

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Doctors remove TB-infected lung tissue from Andrew Speaker
  • He said decided to have surgery so he won't have to worry about TB in future
  • Speaker sparked health scare after flying with disease
  • Eight people on flight with Andrew Speaker sue him for $1.3 million
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AURORA, Colorado (CNN) -- The Atlanta lawyer with tuberculosis who caused an international health scare after traveling to Europe and back underwent surgery Tuesday to remove the diseased portion of one of his lungs.

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TB patient Andrew Speaker set off an international health scare when he traveled to Europe for his wedding in May.

Andrew Speaker, 31, had the roughly two-hour operation to remove the upper lobe of his right lung at the University of Colorado Hospital. He's been under treatment at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver since the end of May.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who observed the surgery for about an hour, explained that the unusual procedure consisted of inserting a video camera in a tube in one small incision in the right side of Speaker's chest, and putting instruments through another incision.

When the infected portion of the lung was cut out, it was placed inside a bag while still inside the attorney's chest cavity and the bag was sealed inside a tube before being removed.

The main reason for sealing the infected tissue was to prevent it from re-infecting Speaker as it was removed, Gupta said after the operation.

Doctors also wanted to make sure they didn't "release any of that tuberculosis bacteria into the operating room, into the rest of the hospital," Gupta said before the surgery on CNN's "American Morning."Video Watch Andrew Speaker discuss his reasons for having surgery with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta »

Doctors said the operation went well and there was not much bleeding, Gupta said.

The portion of the lung that was removed showed the effects of the disease, Gupta said.

"A regular lung is very pink with a smooth, glistening surface," he said. "This had a lot of bumps on it, and the areas that were diseased were very dark with white nodules."

Speaker will most likely recover at the University of Colorado Hospital for another couple of days, and will return to National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver to finish his antibiotic course.

He will still have to continue taking the medications prescribed by his doctors to fight the tuberculosis until cultures taken from him are negative for tuberculosis bacteria for eight weeks.

At that point, he will be considered non-infectious, but he will still be monitored by health care professionals.

Speaker said it was his decision to have the surgery, which is just one of his treatment options.

"With the amount of treatment I'm going to be on, the doctors said if you go ahead and have this surgery, you don't have to worry 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, or 30 years from now if it's ever going to come back, so it's worth the peace of mind to me," the attorney said.

Speaker was originally found to have an extremely drug resistant strain (XDR-TB) of the respiratory disease earlier this year, but on July 3 doctors said he had multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which is treatable with less toxic drugs.

Speaker and his fiancee had gone to Europe on May 12 for their wedding in Greece, despite warnings from the Fulton County Health Department in Georgia that he should not fly because he risked infecting fellow passengers.

Since then, eight people who shared a flight with Speaker have filed a lawsuit against him, seeking $1.3 million in damages.

Rosalind Yee -- an attorney for the plaintiffs who said her clients include a ninth person related to one of the passengers but who was not on the flight -- said all eight passengers have undergone TB tests since they returned home.

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One of them, a 72-year-old man, tested positive for TB on a skin test, though it was not clear that Speaker was the source. The man's X-rays were normal, she said, and he is awaiting results of further tests.

In the past year, there have been about 124 cases of MDR-TB in the United States. About half of those patients have elected to undergo the surgery to remove the diseased portion of their lungs, Gupta said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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