Richard, age 68, was diagnosed with appendicitis in early August and, after a CT Scan, he had an emergency appendectomy. His recovery went well and two days later he was sent home with antibiotics. But a few days later, everything went sideways.
“I was slurring my speech, I couldn’t walk and my temperature soared to 103 degrees—my wife drove me back to the county hospital,” says Richard. “They thought I had a stroke but they weren’t sure: they medicated me for a stroke anyway. They wanted to send me to another hospital with a better neurology department, so after getting a spinal tap they sent me to LewisGale Medical Center in Salem. On arrival they did another spinal tap and a CT Scan on my head—I had no idea what was going on.”
Richard now knows that he was diagnosed with meningitis. “But they didn’t know whether the meningitis was bacterial or viral or what,” he explains. “They filled me full of antibiotics. My wife, Bonnie, and I asked how this was possible, and if there was any connection to my appendectomy. Nobody had an answer. “
Richard spent seven days in hospital. On the fifth day he was officially diagnosed with aseptic meningitis. At that time he hadn’t heard of the steroid meningitis outbreak. “Bonnie was irritated with the hospital,” Richard adds. “She had asked them to do an MRI on my brain and they didn’t comply. We learned later that they did a CT Scan two days after I arrived at LewisGale, but they didn’t disclose this information and we don’t know why.”
Richard and Bonnie did their own research on aseptic meningitis and discovered that indeed you can get this form of meningitis from a fungal contamination. Richard remembered the injection he was given for pain during and after his appendectomy.
Richard spent 10 days in LewisGale and came home feeling “pretty wobbly”. Bonnie wasn’t convinced that Richard was well enough to be discharged and was still concerned that the hospital hadn’t done thorough testing.
“Bonnie took me back to the county hospital—where I had the appendectomy—and insisted that I have an MRI on my brain,” says Richard. “It would show whether the swelling in the sac that holds the brain had gone down. After I had the MRI we went shopping and within 45 minutes I got a call from my doctor, asking me to come back to ER at the hospital—immediately.”
This time Richard was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, which occurs when a blood clot forms underneath the skull. It often results from a skull fracture, a blow to the head, but Richard didn’t have a sore head. “You’d think I would know if I fell down and hit my head,” he says.
“They wanted to ship me to a neurology center so this time we went to the Winston Salem Medical Center—apparently LewisGale was full. The doctors reviewed the MRI from the county hospital and they had no explanation, but said they usually dissipate by themselves.”
Richard was kept overnight for observation and had yet another CT Scan. He was given an anti-seizure medication to relieve the pressure on his brain and was told me to come back in 30 days and again in 60 days. Each time he had a CT Scan and it showed that he was progressively getting better. Still, nobody could explain why or how he got meningitis—except his neurologist.
“My wife and I researched on the internet the medications that were distributed by the New England Compounding Co. and we discovered that a few hundred—possibly contaminated--steroid injections went to that hospital,” says Richard. “We matched the injections from my medical record that could have been used on me. We spoke with someone in administration at the hospital but they claimed that none of the injections administered to me came from the NECC pharmacy. But that leaves a lot of questions unanswered.”
Then something disturbing happened. Richard got a call from someone in administration at the hospital. She asked him a series of questions concerning his stay in their hospital, questions regarding cleanliness, attentiveness of the nurses, and more. “It was almost like they were anticipating a lawsuit, I remember thinking,” says Richard. At this time he still didn’t know about the meningitis outbreak.
“It wasn’t until after I was released from Winston, about late August, when I found out about the outbreak,” Richard says. “We again questioned what happened to me and sent for the medical records from Wythe County Community Hospital, where I had the appendectomy, and I got my CT Scan from LewisGale in Salem. Interestingly, that CT Scan did not show a subdural hematoma, which was done two days after I was admitted. Then it was very evident on the MRI that was done two weeks later.”
(Richard and Bonnie found out that meningitis can have an incubation time of several weeks but Richard showed symptoms of meningitis almost when he got home from the operation. They did some more research and discovered that time frame is typical of aseptic meningitis—that could have been caused by contaminated injections.)
“When we first heard about the outbreak, we thought my meningitis was connected to it,” says Richard, “and that is when I asked the neurologist. We were outraged. To think that a hospital and a pharmacy could be the cause of all my problems was infuriating. I think the hospital is aware of this and is not in full disclosure. I question that. I found out that morphine was one thing that was distributed by NECC and they did give me morphine during or right after the operation. It is just too coincidental.
READ MORE RARE MENINGITIS OUTBREAK LEGAL NEWS
I don’t know what to think about this whole thing, there are a bunch of unanswered questions. Since I wasn’t diagnosed with fungal meningitis, does that mean that I don’t have a case? Do I have a possible meningitis lawsuit with a diagnosis of aseptic meningitis? I think there is a connection.”
Richard would like to be compensated for at least his medical expenses and loss of income—more than $10,000. He is self-employed so when he doesn’t work, he doesn’t make money. Richard doesn’t know if he can prove that he was given a contaminated injection from the NECC, but a meningitis lawyer might be able to.