- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

GARRISONVILLE, Va. (AP) A former postal worker who has contracted inhalation anthrax still struggles with the uncertainty of whether he will be healthy again and whether he will return to work.
Uncertainty would rule Leroy Richmond's life since it almost ended after he inhaled anthrax spores at Washington's Brentwood postal facility in October.
The Stafford County resident was the first Virginian to be hospitalized with anthrax in the fall.
Three months after his infection, fluid continues to build around his left lung, and his chest is still sore.
"It is a puzzle," he said.
Mr. Richmond, 57, said he hardly ever had been sick before October. A vegetarian for three decades, the father of three still walks a mile almost daily while his 6-year-old son, Quentin, rides alongside on a bike.
"I have treated my body as a temple. When other people were getting sick, I was not," he said.
He was cleaning an area near a mail-sorting machine the morning of Oct. 11, after finishing his duties as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service's Express Mail division. Officials said they thought the machine earlier had processed an anthrax-tainted letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
"I looked up and saw all this dust and soot coming out of the machine and thought I better move," said the 34-year postal veteran. "But I was unaware that the Daschle letter had passed through," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
He started feeling ill on Oct. 16, the day after the letter was opened in Mr. Daschle's offices. Two days later, he was coughing up phlegm and felt even weaker as he arrived at work.
"I couldn't even get out of the car. I had to pull up on the steering wheel to get out. It's like I had already worked a full day."
The next day, a Brentwood nurse sent him home. On the way, he stopped to see his doctor at a clinic in Woodbridge. A doctor there asked Mr. Richmond where he worked, then sent him to Inova Fairfax Hospital as a precaution.
There, after a CT scan suggested anthrax infection, an emergency-room doctor started him on an intravenous dosage of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic whose name many Americans came to know in the days after the anthrax scare. To Mr. Richmond's disbelief, doctors made a definitive anthrax diagnosis.
"No, I'm thinking, it's pneumonia. They're wrong. I know that no one has survived inhalation anthrax."
During the next 31/2 weeks, a team of doctors pumped a cocktail of Cipro, clindamycin and rifampin into Mr. Richmond intravenously.
In the hospital, Mr. Richmond struggled to breathe because of fluid that had built around his lungs. Doctors drained the fluid, sometimes removing two liters at a time. He also developed jaundice, stomach ulcers and blood complications.
"I'm thinking, my God, am I going to make this or not?" he said.
His mind tricked him, sometimes making him think he was a boy roller-skating in the housing projects of his native Newport News. "I would touch my navel. I would pinch myself and say, 'I know this is real, that is not real,'" he said.
At one point, Mr. Richmond recalled, a doctor suggested trying plasma exchange, a procedure described in a medical journal several months earlier. Mr. Richmond endured nearly 20 of the treatments, called plasmapheresis.
"That's when I started turning the corner," he said.
Some of the depressing times were offset by bright moments.
The Washington Redskins sent him an autographed football and other mementos. Mr. Richmond chatted with visitors including Cipro's inventor, the postmaster general and Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, a surgeon.
Mr. Richmond said he was irked that none of Virginia's top elected officials visited him.
He says he also was angry at government officials who insisted for a week that Brentwood postal workers were at little or no risk for contracting the disease.
"How wrong they were. Two people died," he said, referring to co-workers Joseph Curseen, with whom he prayed at 4:30 each morning, and Thomas Morris Jr., his pinochle partner.
In contrast, contaminated Senate offices closed almost immediately.
Mr. Richmond left the hospital on Nov. 13, making him the last Washington-area anthrax survivor to be discharged. Doctors gave him 11 pills to take daily, a lot for someone used to only aspirin.
Friends brought him pastries on Thanksgiving. His children gave the self-described simple man a sweater, underwear and T-shirts for Christmas. On New Year's Eve, he stood before his Baptist church congregation and thanked them for their prayers.
He doesn't know when, or if, he will go back to work. His wife, Susan, who also works at Brentwood, is taking care of him while the facility remains closed.
Once a week, he returns to Northern Virginia for a checkup and to have blood drawn. He says scientists are analyzing his blood in hopes of developing an anthrax vaccine for the public.
He doesn't know how much longer the checkups will last. The timeline, like much of the past three months, remains uncertain.
"I don't think there is an endpoint," Mr. Richmond said.

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