By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A woman in Minnesota still suffers memory loss and recurring joint pain.
For an Indiana man the headaches never stopped.
A Tennessee woman, one of the few known to have suffered a recurrence, is being pursued by bill collectors.
Going on three years from the disclosure of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak, the victims and their loved ones are scattered across the country, many still weakened from the original illness and still suffering after effects of an uncertain cure.
And those are the ones that lived.
Fueled by fungus laden vials of a steroid that promised at least temporary pain relief, the 2012 outbreak took the lives of 76 patients, including the wife and sole caretaker of Wayne Reed of Nashville, Tenn. who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease.
Though victims and survivors are in line to get some payments from the recently settled bankruptcy of the drug company blamed for the outbreak, insurance companies will likely be seeking reimbursement for the bills they paid in behalf of those victims.
Bob Pinkstaff, 61, of Elberfeld, Ind. got his shot of tainted methylprednisolone acetate on Sept. 1, 2012 at an Evansville hospital and the headaches started soon afterward.
They never stopped.
Linda, his wife, said doctors first blamed the headaches on a test of his spinal fluid taken to determine if he had contracted fungal meningitis. Eventually, however, subsequent tests showed traces of the
the same fungus implicated in the outbreak.
Now he is suffering not only from the after effects of the illness but worsening pain from the back condition that led him to seek the steroid shots in the first place.
And making matters worse, she said is the fact that when health providers learn that he is involved in litigation stemming from the outbreak, they refuse to treat him.
She said one nurse practitioner told the couple, "We don't do litigation patients."
On a recent trip to a WalMart, she said her husband just suddenly stopped and seemed to be having a seizure.
"He was just gone" she said."He doesn't deserve this."
Rosanna Bennington, a Minnesota resident, got her steroid shot at a pain clinic in Maple Grove on Sept. 10, 2012. It was her first and last.
Within a week, she said she was so ill she couldn't work. Her symptoms included a headache, nausea, sweating and light sensitivity.
When she went to a local urgent care clinic, they sent her home concluding she was having a bout with the flu. She went back and was sent home again. The same thing happened when she went to a hospital emergency room.
Home again she had passed out when she got a call from the clinic where she got the shot called. She returned the call and was told she had been injected with a fungus laden steroid.
Back at the emergency room, she underwent a painful spinal tap, but was then told her fluid was clear and she was fine.
But she wasn't.
She was eventually placed on voriconazole, an anti-fungal drug with serious side effects. Today she still has not recovered, and, like Pinkstaff, she has had difficulty getting needed treatment.
She said her overall health has deteriorated significantly and is now worse than when she went to get the ill-fated injection.
"I have memory loss, loss of motor skills, speech problems and balance issues" she said.
As for the financial impact, Bennington said she has been unable to go back to work and went from earning $4,000 a month to getting a $200 a month check from the state of Minnesota.
Joan Peay, the Nashville woman who was hospitalized multiple times from the original bout with fungal meningitis, suffered a relapse a year later sending her back to the hospital.
"I was incoherent a whole month," she said.
Peay has assembled a listing of just some of her medical bills and they total over $100,000.
"We had to use some of our retirement savings to pay for my costs. That put an additional burden on us because we already had used $40,000 of our retirement savings after the 2010 flood."
Peay said they only learned after the devastating flood that, because of recently changed rules, they could have purchased flood insurance
George Peay, Joan's husband, said prescription drug costs were very high and the bills don't include the travel for multiple doctor and hospital visits.
"We absolutely had to take money out of retirement," he added.
On the advice of her attorney, Joan Peay said she did not pay the balance due on some of the hospital bills from her illness. As a result, the hospital turned the bills over to a collection agency.
As for her health, Peay said the illness has taken some 10 years off his wife's life.
"It's been really hard on her. She'll never be herself again," he said.
"I worry about down the road," he added. "That's what worries me."