Friday, February 3, 2017
Cadden Trial Brings Back Victim's Anger
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Ronda Burns, a victim of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, says she has gone through a series of emotions over the more than four years since she was sickened; depression, despair, frustration and anger.
It is that last emotion, anger, that has emerged as she has followed the developments in a Boston, Mass. courtroom.
Barry J. Cadden, the one time president of a booming drug compounding company, is on trial on charges of racketeering and 25 counts of second degree murder. Cadden's now defunct company, the New England Compounding Center, produced the fungus riddled drugs that sickened Ronda and more than 700 others. It killed 76.
Burns was one of 153 Tennessee victims of the outbreak. Sixteen of them died. The outbreak first came to light when a Smyrna patient who had been injected with a contaminated steroid at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center died with a diagnosis of fungal meningitis.
Cadden's trial will be followed by trials for nine others charged by a grand jury that investigated the deadly outbreak.
For Burns the ongoing murder trial of the president of the company that caused her illness has brought back the anger.
"I want them to suffer like we did," she said of the defendants.
An activist among the hundreds of living outbreak victims, she started a secret page for 50 other victims to share their stories and emotions.
"It helps us to be able to talk to each other. I feel like I had to start something good for the survivors," Burns said.
The Castalian Springs, Tenn. resident said her back problems first surfaced when she was a junior in high school and went to a chiropractor for treatment of whiplash. Problems resurfaced every few years and she developed sciatica after getting a spinal block in the delivery of her first child in 1992.
It recurred in 2010 and she was diagnosed with arthritis.
"I had arthritis in my spine and it was eating my neck and lumbar discs pretty badly," she said.
She declined a spinal fusion but two years later the sciatica came back with a vengeance.
"It was worse this time. The pain was really bad, " Burns said.
When nothing seemed to help she agreed to have steroid injections, the first on Aug. 17, 2012.
Almost immediately after the shot, she said the pain was worse than ever.
"The pain was horrid," she said.
When she called the doctor, he told her to come in for another injection on Aug.30.
She would later learn that both shots came from lots of fungus laden lots of methylprednisolone acetate from NECC.
She said she was in constant pain and bedridden for most of September and October, when she finally went to the emergency room at the Saint Thomas Hospital.
"It looked like a war zone. Patients were everywhere. They were in the hallway and it was a scary site," she recalled.
After waiting several hours she underwent a lumbar puncture which turned out negative so she was sent home.
She returned two days later and was sent home again.
She said she did not get a final diagnosis of fungal meningitis until early January, 2013 after undergoing an MRI.
"I knew I had it the whole time. I had enough medical training and that voice inside my head kept telling me so," Burns said.
With the diagnosis, Burns began treatment with a powerful antifungal drug with devastating side effects.
"After taking the antifungal (Voriconizole) for two weeks, I couldn't raise my head off the pillow. I felt like I was dying. I actually wanted to die several times during the nine months on that drug," she said.
"I had all the side effects. Nausea was awfully bad. My nails peeled, skin red all the time. I could not be in the sun. I was a hermit for all the nine months," she said.
Still later an abscess was discovered in her spine requiring surgery.
Though improved, Burns still suffers from other after effects of the meningitis and the toxic drugs used to cure it. There's the condition called arachnoiditis and drug induced neuropathy in her feet.
"I try to be happy with the good days. Thank God that I have some good ones. I will never forget what I have been through."