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Doctors: Legionnaires’ Disease Contributed To Henry Ford II’s Death

October 1, 1987

DETROIT (AP) _ Legionnaires’ disease contributed to the death of auto industry magnate Henry Ford II, who died after a 2 1/2 -week battle with pneumonia, doctors said.

Ford, 70, who rescued Ford Motor Co. during World War II and ran it during four decades, died Tuesday morning at Henry Ford Hospital of complications from the pneumonia he contracted during a European vacation.

The presence of Legionella bacteria, the organism that causes Legionnaires’ disease, was diagnosed in West Germany, said Dr. Louis Saravolatz, division head of infectious diseases at Ford Hospital.

″This is not an unequivocal diagnosis, but it strongly suggests it was a diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease as being his first event,″ he said.

″We do not know when the illness (Legionnaires’ disease) actually began,″ said Dr. Bruce Steinhauer, the Ford family physician. ″He (Ford) probably never did, either.″

″Legionnaires’ disease really had little to do with why he was here,″ Ford Hospital spokeswoman Debra Hussong said Wednesday. ″It wasn’t the cause of his death. In fact, by the time he entered Cottage Hospital in Grosse Pointe, the Legionnaires’ had cleared up.″

Legionnaires’ disease was diagnosed for the first time after 221 people contracted the illness in Philadelphia in July 1976, and takes its name from the outbreak at the Pennsylvania American Legion convention. Thirty-four people died - 29 Legionnaires or family members and five other people who had been near the hotel where the convention was held.

The bacterium believed to be responsible is found in soil and grows in water, such as air conditioning ducts, storage tanks and rivers.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimate 25,000 people in the United States contract Legionnaires’ disease each year, and about 15 percent of the cases prove fatal.

A private funeral for Ford will be held Friday. On Oct. 8, Ford operations worldwide will shut down for three minutes in honor of the grandson and namesake of the company’s founder.

The period of silence will coincide with the start of a public memorial service at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit.

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