By Walter F. Roche Jr.
On June 19, 2012 70-year-old Kenneth Denesha visited a Florida pain clinic for an injection of a steroid to ease extreme pain in his neck and shoulder. Less than a month later he was dead, the first of 64 to die in a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak.
Now Denesha's widow, Amy, has joined hundreds of other victims of the outbreak and their survivors in a massive lawsuit before a federal judge in Boston. The outbreak also sickened 751 patients in 20 states.
Though the outbreak would not become public until several months later, Denesha's death on July 15, 2012 is the earliest recorded by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the outbreak later blamed on a Massachusetts drug compounding drug firm.
A retired drill operator and a one time high school wrestling and football player, Denesha collapsed just two days before his death while cutting his lawn. He died July 15, 2012 in a Florida hospice.
Though it was first assumed he had died of a massive stroke, his family only later learned that it was the June injection of methylprednisolone acetate that killed him.
In addition to his wife he left three children, four stepchildren and two siblings.
According to the recently filed lawsuit, Denesha got the June 2012 injection at the Florida Pain Clinic and it was administered by Dr. Stephen T. Pyles. Neither Pyles or the pain clinic are named as defendants in the 45-page amended complaint.
CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson said this week in an email response to questions that the July 15 Florida death was the earliest recorded in the outbreak.
The company blamed for the outbreak, the New England Compounding Center, shutdown and filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 21, 2012.
The Denesha lawsuit charges the owners of NECC and affiliated companies with gross negligence, wrongful death and violations of state consumer protection statutes.
"Kenneth Denesha died as the direct and proximate result of the contaminated steroid injection," the complaint states.
The first public notice of the outbreak would not come until late September of 2012 when Tennessee state health officials reported a cluster of deaths from fungal meningitis among patients, it turned out, who had recent steroid injections in the back or neck.
The first Tennessee victim to die was Eddie C. Lovelace, a Kentucky judge who had traveled to a Nashville clinic for a steroid injection. He died Sept. 17, 2012. The last Tennessee victim to die, according to court filings, was Gokulbhai Patel, who passed away on Jan. 13, 2013.
While 15 Tennessee patients and seven from Florida died in the outbreak, Michigan with 19 deaths had the most victims.