Expert: Man didn’t die of Legionella

Leonard N. Fleming

A Flint-area man died in 2015 of acute respiratory distress syndrome, not Legionnaires’ disease, as prosecutors have alleged when they charged state Medical Executive Eden Wells with involuntary manslaughter in the Flint water crisis, an infectious disease expert testified Wednesday.

Dr. Jeffrey Band, who works at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and is a longtime but semi-retired epidemiologist, spoke extensively about the 2015 death of John Snyder as a defense witness. He said he “absolutely” considered Legionella as the possible cause of death but determined it didn’t lead to Snyder’s demise.

Band said records he reviewed showed Snyder declined a request by his doctor in June 2014 to use a defibrillator to replace a pacemaker, meaning Snyder was “at risk for sudden death.”

“He did not have any fever,” Band 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.”

Snyder’s heart, Band told 67th District Court Judge William Crawford II, was “down to, at most, 30 percent functioning.” And Snyder suffered from “bilateral density in the lungs,” which caused more problems, he said.

Wells is also facing charges of lying to a special police agent and obstruction of justice regarding the 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area that killed 12 people and sickened at least 79 others.

Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis like Snyder was, Band said, can exhibit “false positives for Legionella.

Band’s testimony contradicted the analysis of Wayne State University’s Dr. Joel Kahn, an expert for Attorney General Bill Schuette’s legal team, who contended in a February preliminary hearing that Snyder passed away at 83 of Legionnaires’ disease “no question.”

Band testified last month for the defense team of state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice.

In Wednesday’s testimony, the Beaumont Hospital expert reiterated that the 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ diagnoses constituted a “smoldering outbreak” with a small number of cases over a period of time. The public didn’t need to be told about the outbreak because it would cause a panic and because the disease can’t be treated with a vaccine like other diseases that would require a public notice, he said.

But Special Prosecutor Todd Flood on cross examination hammered Band on when the public should be notified about a deadly disease. Flood noted Band’s disagreements with other doctors working at Wayne State University who testified for the prosecution that the public needed to be notified in 2014.

The testy exchanges prompted frequent objections by defense attorney Steve Tramontin. At one point, Flood prompted the disease specialist to say, “I’ve never implied that the Legionella situation in Genesee County was not significant.”

Under questioning, Band said the defense team paid him nearly $19,000 at $400 an hour from an unknown fund. But the doctor said he resented Flood’s assertion that he was being “paid.”

Defense testimony will continue May 30 after Wells’ attorneys requested for more time to prepare for witnesses.


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