Thursday, January 12, 2017
Victims Watching as Cadden Case Proceeds
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
BOSTON, Mass. As the case of the worst American public health tragedy in recent memory unfolds in a 7th floor federal courtroom here, one spectator has a perspective vastly different from the lawyers, regulators and reporters filling the benches.
Dawn Elliott was injected not once, not twice but five times with steroids from the company blamed for the deadly 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak. And now the former head of that company, Barry J. Cadden, is on trial here on racketeering and second degree murder charges stemming from a grand jury probe of the outbreak and his company.
Elliott, who lives in Bristol, Ind., is one of the victims who took after filling out a questionnaire took advantage of an offer by the U.S. Department of Justice to attend at least part of the trial.
Elliott, 55, is spending the current week watching the proceedings before U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns.
"I hope this gives me some mental closure. I'll never have physical closure," Elliott said in an interview after a recent session. In fact she had to leave the courtroom early after becoming nauseous.
Even now, more than four years after first becoming ill, Elliott suffers not only from the after effects of fungal meningitis but also from lingering effects of the powerful anti-fungal drugs that had a crippling and debilitating effect.
"It was like going through chemo every day," Elliott recalled. "I actually prayed for my death, while my family prayed for me to live."
She said there were hallucinations and flashing lights and a feeling of going through a tunnel.
At one point, she said her sister called their father to tell him that he better come right away if he wanted to be able to say good bye.
At another point she was so desperate she threatened suicide, sending her sister into a panic as she rushed to her side.
In the aftermath she learned that all of her injections with methlyprednisolone acetate came from the three NECC lots contaminated with fungus. Two came from the lot most badly contaminated.
There are ironies in her story.
She has spent much of her life working in the pharmaceutical field, where part of her job was to make sure that all the rules were followed.
"That was what I dedicated my life to," she said.
She said she said she chose to get spinal injections because she wanted to avoid surgery and its after effects. And she wanted to keep her job and continue her active hobbies like scuba diving.
In the end she had multiple surgeries, had to quit her job and has severe limits on physical activities
"It's taken everything away from me," she said.
Elliott like other survivors also faces the uncertainty of what lies ahead. The outbreak was without precedent and long term effects including possible relapses are a possibility.
"We're a bunch of lab rats," she said.
As for the trial, which has been marked thus far by lengthy technical testimony, procedural hurdles and the introduction of dozens of exhibits, Elliott says she just hopes that the jurors will be able to understand it all.
"I can't believe all that I've learned," she said referring to complex regulatory details that allowed NECC to become what it was.
Christina Sterling, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Boston Office, said the agency regularly offers victims the opportunity to attend court sessions of the cases they are involved in. That included victims in the Boston Marathon bombing case.
"Victim travel is funded through the Department of Justice," Sterling said. "We always try to accommodate victims who wish to be present for court proceedings."
In addition to victims from Indiana, others who either have come or are scheduled to attend future sessions are from Tennessee and Michigan, two of the hardest hit states in the outbreak.