Former Lockheed worker shares story after Cobb Legionnaires’ outbreak

Last month, Lockheed Martin sent around an internal memo to all Marietta employees regarding two plant workers who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

“There is no confirmation that these employees contracted this disease at Aeronautics’ Marietta site,” said the email, which was attributed to Karmyn Norwood, the Vice President of AMMM Line of Business Integration. “In fact, based on information gathered thus far, there does not appear to be a high risk of Legionnaire’s disease in our workplace.”

But one former employee would beg to differ.

Gyasi Brown, a 34-year-old operational engineer, was diagnosed with the potentially fatal pneumonia in October 2014, after he was relocated to a tunnel under the Marietta facility for work training. He believes that “filty” tunnel is exactly where he contracted the disease.

“The first day I noticed I was getting it I had chills, maybe like I was getting a cold or something. Then my body started to ache and I thought ‘maybe I’m getting the flu,’ but I’d already taken a flu shot back in September,” Brown said. Less than a week after the disease’s onset, he was in the intesive care unit at Wellstar Cobb Hospital. “By Saturday I couldn’t get out of the bed and actually walk. I was falling down, my oxygen was so low.”

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While Brown was hospitalized — about a week and a half total — doctors were fixated on finding out where he could have been exposed to the Legionella bacteria. According to the report submitted to both the Cobb County Public Health and the Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention, Brown had not done anything outside his usual routine in the weeks leading up to his diagnosis. He slept at home, and dropped his young daughter off at daycare on his way to work, like he did every day. The only change was his work training, in Tunnel 3 under the B-1 building, (the same building the two most recent cases worked in).

A representative from Lockheed Martin said they were never notified of Brown’s diagnosis, but preventative measures like water testing have always been in place. Brown was laid off earlier this year in the company’s effort to reduce costs.

Brown said his ordeal had a lasting impact on him. Though he had health insurance, he had to pay nearly $6,000 out of pocket for his medical treatment. He was placed on short term disability benefits for about a month while he recovered, but it’s been an arduous process.

“I still haven’t fully recovered,” Brown said. “Now if I get a cold, I get bronchitis because my lungs are so damaged. It just feels like weight on your chest when you have it. I’ve had acute bronchitis twice since I’ve been out of the hospital.”

Legionnaires’ Disease is transmitted by inhaling the bacteria, usually in the form contaminated water vapor. Typically, less than 5 percent of people exposed to the bacteria will actually get sick. So far in 2016, there have been 52 reported cases of Legionnaires’ in the state of Georgia.

Several Marietta employees were also diagnosed with Legionnaires’ in 1996, and Brown believes a few of his coworkers came down with pneumonia around the same time he was hospitalized. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was not able to independently verify any additional cases in 2014. In all reported instances, Lockheed has said there is no evidence to suggest that the bacteria came from their facilities.

“I received several calls from the health department and the CDC, but I feel like nothing was ever done about it,” Brown said. “I just felt like [Lockheed] always said ‘we didn’t have anything to do with it.’”

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