Thursday, March 2, 2017
For Outbreak Victim Pain Lingers
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
BOSTON, Mass. - Among the outbreak victims watching the proceedings this week in the trial of Barry J. Cadden, is a Western Pennsylvania woman who, more than four years after being stricken, still must take medication to fight fungal meningitis and related illnesses.
Margaret Carmichael of Hookstown, Penn. is one of a stream of victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak who have been invited to watch the Cadden trial for a week at a time as guests of the U.S. Justice Department.
It was on Sept. 13, 2012 that Carmichael, then a resident of Brighton, Mich., went to a nearby clinic for an injection of methylprednisolone acetate for the relief of severe back pain.
Almost immediately, she said, she was in worse pain than ever. And the pain was not in the usual place but lower in her tailbone.
"I knew something was wrong," she said in an interview outside the courtroom where Cadden is on trial on charges of racketeering and 25 counts of second degree murder.
"Something was wrong, something was not right," she added.
Cadden was president and part owner of the New England Compounding Center, the now defunct Framingham, Mass. company blamed for the outbreak.
The methylprednisolone acetate injected in Carmichael's back that day in 2012 was shipped from NECC to Michigan Pain Specialists.
A sales representative for a cement company she said she went back to work but also had another new symptom, a low grade headache.
Over the next week she said the pain worsened but she kept working. It was early in October while making a sales call to a client that she noticed a series of calls from her pain clinic. She wondered out loud what the clinic wanted.
"I don't have the time for a phone call," she told her client.
He stopped her and asked if she hadn't heard the news about people dying from injections at pain clinics.
"You need to get to an emergency room right now," he recalled him saying.
She went in for a spinal tap and though it came back negative at first, her white blood cell count spiked. She was sent to an Ann Arbor hospital in an ambulance.
She didn't get out until Christmas.
"I've never been so scared in my life," she said.
When treatment with powerful antifungal drugs was initiated, the reaction was immediate.
"My whole body was jumping off the bed," Carmichael said.
After her December discharge, she was back in the hospital with a relapse.
"They thought I was dying," she said, adding that doctors then decided to give her even higher doses of anti-fungals.
She said she was waiting for the birth of her first grandchild but kept going back and forth to the hospital. In the end she missed the birth of her grandchild on Oct. 23, 2013.
She had developed a serious abscess at the sight of the injection and had to undergo surgery.
She said the doctor had to "fillet me like a fish."
"They couldn't kill the fungus. It was horrible. I lost hair. It's chemo, that's what it is," she said, adding that she lost 30 pounds during the ordeal.
Now she said she may have to remain on oral antifungal medications for the rest of her life.
"I'm in pain constantly," she said.
She did decide to move to Pennsylvania to be near her daughter and grandson.
Returning to work in her current condition is not a option though she says she loved her job.
Like most other victims Carmichael says she has yet to receive a penny from the NECC bankruptcy and other settlements stemming from the outbreak.
"I'm okay," she added. "I'd rather be poor and happy."