An infectious disease expert has testified that a Flint-area man who died in 2015 did not die from Legionnaires’ disease.
Flint Legionnaires’ Crisis
In 2014 and 2015, a Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area killed 12 people and caused at least 79 others to become ill. The State of Michigan charged its state chief medical officer Eden Wells with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths. Wells is also facing charges of lying to a special police agent, misconduct in office, and obstruction of justice. The manslaughter charge carries a prison term for up to 15 years and a $7,500 fine. The obstruction charges carries a sentence of up to two years. Governor Rick Snyder kept Wells in her post despite the criminal charges against her.
At trial, Wells’ defense team called Dr. Jeffrey Band to testify as an expert witness. Dr. Band is an epidemiologist who works at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Dr. Band reviewed the patients’ records to prepare his testimony.
Dr. Band testified extensively about the 2015 death of John Snyder. Band opined that Snyder’s death was not Legionnaires’ disease. Band said that he “absolutely” considered that Legionella could have been the cause of death, but he was ultimately able to determine that it was not the cause. Band stated that Snyder suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause a person to exhibit “false positives” for Legionella.
Dr. Band stated that Snyder’s records showed that he declined his doctor’s request to replace his pacemaker with a defibrillator, which meant that Snyder was “at risk for sudden death.” Band noted that Snyder did not have a fever, which is a symptom of Legionnaires’. He said, “He was not found to have an elevated white count. With Legionnaires’ disease, one of the features is a very high fever and it’s unremitting. It stays up there. And Mr. Snyder did not have any fever.” Band testified that Snyder’s heart was “down to, at most, 30 percent functioning” and that he also suffered from “bilateral density in the lungs,” which caused additional problems.
On cross-examination, Special Prosecutor Todd Flood asked Band when the public should be notified about a deadly disease. Band testified that the 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ diagnoses constituted a “smoldering outbreak” with a small number of cases over a period of time. Band opined that the public did not need to be notified because it would cause a panic as the disease cannot be treated by a vaccine like other diseases. Flood noted that Band’s opinion was counter to the doctors from Wayne State University who testified that the public should have been notified of the outbreak.
Band revealed that he was compensated $400 per hour for his time, for a total of approximately $19,000. Band stated that he resented Flood’s assertion that he was being “paid” for his opinion. Flood stated that, “I’ve never implied that the Legionella situation in Genesee County was not significant.”