New Brunswick

Jumpin' Jack Proud wants to dance again after battle with legionnaires' disease

Jack Proud is among 16 people in the Moncton area who became ill this summer during an outbreak of the severe form of pneumonia, which can be deadly. The 93-year-old remains in hospital and wants to know where the outbreak began.

Father, daughter say they'd like to know where outbreak began

Patti Proud with her father Jack Proud, who remains in the Moncton Hospital after getting legionnaires' disease in August. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Jack Proud wants to dance again.

The 93-year-old nicknamed Jumpin' Jack was still active before legionnaires' disease sent him to hospital in August. He's in the rehabilitation unit at the Moncton Hospital, and he's starting to walk again.

"I'll tell you I was never so sick in my life, boy oh boy," Proud said in an interview at the hospital. "I'm in therapy now. I hope I make it through." 

Jack Proud is one of 16 people in the Moncton area who became ill this summer during an outbreak of legionnaires' disease. 6:08

Proud is among 16 people in the Moncton area who became ill this summer during an outbreak of the severe form of pneumonia, which can be deadly. 

Public health has said 15 people were hospitalized, with several spending time in intensive care. At a Sept. 12 news conference, all were described as recovering. It's unclear if Proud is the only one still in hospital and Public Health hasn't identified the source of the outbreak.

Proud and his daughter went to Halifax on Aug. 18 for a celebration of his years as a sales representative with World's Finest Chocolate. He started to feel ill the evening of Aug. 20.

He went to hospital in Halifax where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He spent a day and a half there before he was taken by ambulance to Moncton. It was Aug. 25 when he was diagnosed with legionnaires' disease.

"He nearly died three different times," Patti Proud said as her father nodded. "It's been very, very scary."

She said he's been doing better recently. For the first time since Proud became ill, his daughter has gone home to Prince Edward Island.

Before the disease, the former physical education teacher, salesperson and author was always on the go. He told CBC that Jumpin' Jack was something he said often, so often it stuck as a nickname. The Moncton Wildcats season ticket-holder said he continued to dance at Peoples Park Tower, where he lived before he got sick. 

Proud lived in Peoples Park Tower in Moncton when he became ill. The building is home to about 400 people. (Shane Magee/CBC)

"My feet are a little heavy [compared] to what they used to be," Proud said. "I don't know if I'm going to get back there or not. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed."

Proud and his daughter say health officials assured them the outbreak did not originate at Peoples Park Tower. But like others, they've not been told where the legionella bacteria that sent him to the hospital did come from. Like others, they want to know. 

"I don't know what they're hiding," Proud said. 

Dr. Yves Léger, a regional medical officer of health, says there's 'no public benefit' to releasing the location because the cooling towers that caused the outbreak were shut down and cleaned Aug. 13. (Shane Magee?CBC)

The provincial Health Department has kept the source of the outbreak secret. 

Dr. Yves Léger, a regional medical officer of health, has said the source of the outbreak was identified and cleaned and no longer poses a risk to the public. Léger has said part of the reason for not disclosing the source is concern it could prompt people to avoid the area.

The illness doesn't spread from person to person but through inhaling mist that contains the bacteria.

Legionella bacteria are present in many natural waterways. Improperly maintained man-made water systems, such as air conditioners, cooling towers, whirlpools, spas and decorative fountains, are often the source of legionnaires' outbreaks. 

Cooling towers are a heat-removal device on many commercial and industrial buildings where, under certain conditions, the bacteria can thrive and be released into the surrounding environment.  

Léger has only said the bacteria originated from cooling towers in western Moncton that were cleaned Aug. 13.

Cooling towers on an industrial building in Moncton. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"It gets released in the environment and then the winds can pick it up and spread it many, many kilometres, which can explain why we've seen cases spread out across the city," Léger told Information Morning Moncton in August. 

CBC News has spoken to several of the 16 who became ill, including: 

  • Claudette Lirette, who lives off Killam Drive and would often go by the Moncton industrial park en route to visit her sister and brother-in-law in Salisbury. 

  • Richard Melanson, who works at an engineering firm with an office on English Drive in the industrial park. 

  • Proud, who lives in Peoples Park Tower, about a kilometre east of the industrial park.

Last week, CBC reported an internal email sent Aug. 13 to Organigram employees said "elevated bacteria counts" were found in one of the company's cooling tower systems. The towers were shut down and cleaned. 

"Please note this system is external and does not impact air quality within the facility, or the health of our products," the email states. 

Organigram, a major cannabis producer, is based in the Moncton industrial park. 

Cooling towers at Organigram's plant in the Moncton industrial park. An internal email indicated the bacteria found in the cooling towers did not affect the company's products. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The email doesn't specify what type of bacteria was found.

The details in the email coincide with the few details public health has released about the source of the outbreak, including the date, the rough location of the cooling towers and that the health department would continue to regularly check the site. 

Organigram has neither confirmed nor denied the outbreak originated at its facility. Neither Public Health nor Organigram would comment on the email.

Patti Proud said Public Health officials they dealt with were kind and professional, but the family would still like answers. 

Minister won't comment

She said knowing the location for certain could help give the family peace of mind. And she said making it public could help ensure cooling towers are properly cleaned in the future. 

She hopes to see rules in place to ensure cooling towers are properly cleaned in the hopes of preventing future outbreaks. 

Quebec implemented rules for cooling towers following a deadly outbreak in Quebec City in 2012, but New Brunswick doesn't have a similar system in place.

Ted Flemming, the health minister, wouldn't provide an interview.

Léger has previously said a report about the outbreak will likely include recommendations for a registry of cooling towers and more rules about maintenance.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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