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TN woman files lawsuit after meningitis infection

5:17 PM, Oct 15, 2012   |    comments
The New England Compounding Center is shown here on October 5, 2012 in Framingham, Massachusetts. The pharmacy is currently being investigated for producing a contaminated steroid shot that included the meningitis fungus that has killed at least five people. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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By Bobby Allyn / The Tennessean

A 71-year-old Hendersonville woman who claims she was infected with fungal meningitis in August after receiving a steroid injection in a clinic at Saint Thomas Hospital is the first Tennessean to file a lawsuit against the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center.

An attorney representing Janet Russell and her husband, Robert, filed a lawsuit in state court on Monday seeking $15 million for medical expenses and other types of suffering endured as a result of receiving a tainted vial of a steroid medication.

Nashville-based attorney Randall Kinnard, who filed the complaint, said the lawsuit is the first of at least a dozen more he plans to file on behalf of victims who have been stricken by fungal meningitis.

Russell received an annual steroid shot to treat her back pain on Aug. 30 at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after, Russell was re-admitted to the hospital for a fever and an excruciating headache before she was diagnosed with fungal meningitis, said Kinnard, her attorney.

According to the lawsuit, the injection Russell received was "unreasonably dangerous and in defective condition" when the New England Compounding Center sent the steroid medicine to Saint Thomas, which received some 2,000 vials of the tainted drug.

Since receiving the injection, Russell has "suffered horribly and been terribly injured," the lawsuit asserts. She has had a stroke, sustained physical deformity and disfigurement and has contended with acute mental anguish, according to the suit.

Now in intensive care, Russell can say just a few words but her sentences are mostly incomprehensible, her attorney said. She struggles holding any food down, and she can just sip water, he said.

Russell is among more than 50 Tennesseans who have been sickened by steroid medicine made by the New England Compounding Center. Six in the state have died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 205 people in 23 states have come down with fungal meningitis, an exceedingly rare and sometimes fatal disease.

The number of people infected is expected to rise, as health authorities calculate that around 14,000 around the country received tainted injections from the Massachusetts-based company.

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