West Allis man may be first in Milwaukee Co. to die of Legionnaires'

WEST ALLIS (WITI) -- A West Allis man may have been the first in Milwaukee County to die from Legionnaires' Disease. 56-year-old Ken Luedke's family says for awhile, they just thought he had the flu.

It all started in late July, when Luedke began having flu-like symptoms. He visited the doctor, got some cough medicine and went home to recover.

It was just two months after Luedke had retired from a career in the military. He got what he thought was the flu, after his two-year-old grandson was sick.

"He said 'well, that's what I've got, and so I must have what he has,'" Luedke's ex-wife Joanie Luedke said.

On July 31st, Luedke got much worse.

"They basically told us that he was really sick and becoming septic," Luedke's daughter, Alicia Luedke said.

"By the time they got him up to the ICU they told us they had tested positive for the Legionnella," Joanie Luedke said.

Luedke's family had never heard of Legionnaires' Disease -- a severe form of pneumonia caused by inhaling contaminated water vapor.

So far this summer, there have been 30 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' in Milwaukee, and 48 in Milwaukee County.

Alicia Luedke says her dad was number 27.

"When you hear that your family member is dying your automatically go to okay, why?  What's the cause?  And when you hear a name that you've never heard before, it's scary," Alicia Luedke said.

The Milwaukee Health Department believes there are multiple sources of this year's Legionnella. Their best theory is cooling towers that were off for much of the summer, then turned on for a few hot weeks, spreading water vapor through the air.

"This is an organism that likes to grow in warm water. It likes to grow in stagnant water. This disease begins with a fever, some coughing and respiratory difficult and then progresses to pneumonia," Paul Biedrzycki with the Milwaukee Health Department said.

After 17 days, Luedke's family took him off of life support -- something their soldier would have wanted.

The father of four and grandfather of three will be laid to rest with full military honors. His family says they are channeling his courage to raise awareness.

"If it could save someone else's sorrow or spare someone else's children the loss of a parent or a loved one," Joanie Luedke said.

Though Luedke's family believes he died as a result of Legionnaires' Disease, this has not been confirmed by the Milwaukee County Health Department.

Luedke's family is encouraging those who come down with flu-like symptoms to ask for a urine test to determine whether it is Legionella.

So far, the Milwaukee Health Department says it is not aware of any deaths, but says it can take awhile to confirm these things.