By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Though miles apart Jack Pavlekovich and Joan Peay have some experiences in common, experiences they both wish they never had.
Pavlekovich in Indiana and Peay in Tennessee were injected with a fungus loaded spinal steroid from the same rogue drug compounder. They both contracted fungal meningitis, underwent lengthy hospitalizations and debilitating treatment with powerful antifungal drugs.
And then they both got to go through it all over again after suffering lengthy and painful relapses.
Then, there's one other thing: Four years after it all began they, like nearly all other victims of the country's worst such outbreak in history, have yet to receive a penny in recompense even though well over $200 million has been amassed to pay back creditors and victims of that Massachusetts drug compounding firm, the New England Compounding Center.
An additional $40 million has been set aside from a federal crime victims fund, but outbreak victims are learning that it may be months before they can expect to get anything from that allotment and even then there will be strings attached, strings that could force them to pay some or all of the money back.
"First we were promised payment in early 2015," said Pavlekovitch, "then it was March of 2015. Then it was March of 2016, then July, then August. It's October and still nothing."
Peay, who was back in the hospital with a relapse a year after her original 2012 bout, says she is "ashamed" of the federal officials who added to the ongoing delays by, among other things, refusing to waive reimbursements to the Medicare program for the costs of treating victims.
"Some victims had to declare bankruptcy during these four years," Peay added.
One of those was Pavlekovitch, who said he had no choice but to declare bankruptcy as the copays and other uncovered expenses drained the family resources.
Four years ago today he was released from the hospital after his first bout on Oct. 31, 2012, but was back the next day with a blood clot.
Both Peay and Pavlekovich describe in excruciating details the painful and overwhelming after effects of the anitfungal drugs they were treated with. Hallucinations, pneumonia, loss of memory,, hearing loss.
"There were many times that month I thought I would die and didn't care, because I knew I'd be in a better place if I did," Peay said of her treatment for the 2013 relapse.
Peay and Pavlekov
ich aren't the only outbreak victims angered and frustrated over the delays.
Another Tennessee victim said he has been waiting weeks for a form that must be filled out before a promised payment can be made.
"We are so overwhelmed with debt that we'll never recover," said Jona Angst, a Michigan victim, adding that retirement and savings accounts "are gone."
"We keep being told it's coming but its the end of October and still nothing. It's shameful. Just nothing. It's a disgrace."
"Here it is the end of October and less than one percent of the victims have received a check," said Kathy Pugh, who actively campaigned for the $40 million that is now apparently logjammed. Pugh's mother was a Michigan victim of the outbreak.
Terri Lacey, who has served as a volunteer, troubleshooter and counselor to dozens of victims, said that those victims are now faced with watching the little they can recover being eaten away.
"Unresolved litigation has resulted in the transfer of precious dwindling resources for recovery into the pockets of legal teams rather than patients. What little funds might make their way to patients have been reclaimed by Medicare and insurance companies. Patients will be left with little or nothing," she said.