Voices of the NIH Community

“They can’t be talking about me!”

At the time of his exposure, Leroy Richmond was one of the first people in the world known to survive after inhaling anthrax spores. He was a postal worker exposed during the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. Here, he tells Dr. Mary Wright, whom he met as part of NIH’s study about the long-term effects on survivors, about the surreal experience of lying in a hospital bed and hearing TV news reports that he was dying.


Leroy Richmond: I was at a point where I could not breathe and I said, “This must be a common cold.”  So I went to my physician and after he sent me to the emergency room and they gave the diagnosis I had the anthrax bacteria inside of me, everything start moving fast.  My head was swirling, I could not believe that it was me.  And the bottom line on everything I read was no one survives from the anthrax bacteria.  I could not believe it. 

And yet it was true and I prayed.  I prayed not so much as for my survival, but for those too that maybe had been exposed.  But it was a traumatic time for me.

Mary Wright: I remember you telling me a story that you said it was so surreal you were in your hospital room and you weren’t really feeling that badly physically and they mentioned that you were in the hospital dying.

Leroy Richmond: The television screen was showing a news report from Washington, DC that someone, a male, had been admitted from the Brentwood Post Office to the Inova Fairfax Hospital Emergency and they don’t expect that person to live.  And I’m looking at the television, I’m saying, “Surely it must be someone else, they can’t be talking about me,” because I had the faith to know that I’m going to survive.  I’m at the right place, I’m at the right time; the doctors, they’re going to make me well.

Mary Wright: And you were in the hospital for more than three weeks.

Leroy Richmond: Twenty-eight days, yes.

Mary Wright: When you left the hospital, did you feel like okay, I’m out of the woods now or was there still some concerns?

Leroy Richmond: There weren’t really any physical concerns because I had set up a regimen where I would walk every day and pray every day that now that I’m out of the hospital and I’m back in my hometown, that everything is going to be all right.  But the hardest thing for me was looking at my co-workers who thought they could be contracted with the bacteria and those certain distance from people that I thought were my friends, and it really hurt me.

Mary Wright: Do you think some of it had to do with the fact that, you know two of your other co-workers and friends died during this at Brentwood?

Leroy Richmond: I think that was perhaps one of the reasonings that they thought perhaps that the bacteria was still inside of me and had not been eradicated totally.  But I have the hope in knowing that if someone is contracted, their chances of survival are 90% greater than they were when I first contracted it. 

My story is to tell people that hey look, you can survive.  It isn’t the death knell that it was.

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023