By Walter F. Roche Jr. / The Tennessean
Records in a newly filed federal lawsuit indicate the official
death toll among Tennessee patients from the nationwide fungal
meningitis outbreak may be understated.
According to the complaint
filed in U.S. District Court in Boston last week, Gokulbhai Patel of
Goodlettsville died Jan. 13 from fungal meningitis caused by two spinal
steroid injections he received at the Saint Thomas Outpatient
Neurosurgical Center in Nashville.
However, the official death
count maintained by state and federal officials shows no deaths among
Tennessee patients in that month from the outbreak blamed on the New
England Compounding Center, the source of the tainted steroids.
official Tennessee death toll, which climbed to 14 in mid-December, did
not increase to 15 until a Kentucky woman, who had undergone injections
in Nashville and contracted fungal meningitis, died on April 16. The
official count remains at 15, according to the latest data from the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
officials confirmed Thursday that no fungal meningitis deaths among
Tennessee patients were reported in the month Patel died.
not been made aware of any deaths that occurred in January linked to
the meningitis outbreak associated with products from NECC," Tennessee
Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker wrote in an email response
CDC officials said they rely upon state health officials to gather the data from health-care providers on deaths from outbreaks.
the Patel case gives the first indication of a possible undercount in a
public record, it comes as no surprise to attorneys representing
victims of the outbreak.
"Clearly we don't have the exact count,"
said J. Gerard Stranch, who represents several area victims or their
families. He said he was personally aware of about a half dozen cases
not included in the official count.
Stranch said there could be a
variety of reasons, including the fact that some other illness was
listed as the final cause of death when, in fact, a cascade of illness
was initially triggered by fungal meningitis.
The latest CDC data
shows that in addition to the 15 deaths, 153 Tennessee patients have
been sickened from the outbreak. Nationwide, 63 deaths have been
recorded with 749 patients sickened.
"There are potentially a
significant number of additional patients who have been injured or
killed by the contaminated medications sold in Tennessee and in other
states," said Mark Chalos, a Nashville attorney who represents several
He said that he and other plaintiff lawyers have
been pushing for the federal court to require health-care providers to
notify all possible victims, but some have been resisting those efforts.
Colonero at the law firm of Janet, Jenner and Suggs, which represents
the Patel family, said she was not aware the death wasn't included in
the official count.
"Maybe there was some miscommunication," she said, adding that the firm would look into the matter.
80, died some five months after he received the second of two
injections with methylprednisolone acetate at the outpatient center.
Patel said in a telephone interview that his father was hospitalized
twice after contracting fungal meningitis. He said his father, who came
to the United States from his native India in 1997, got the injections
seeking relief from chronic back pain.
He said his father, who was
retired, had been sick "for a long time" and never recovered. "He spent
a lot of time in the hospital."
According to the federal lawsuit,
Patel was referred to the neurosurgical center by the Howell Allen
Clinic, which is part owner of the outpatient center.
complaint states that the elder Patel was given injections on Aug. 27
and Sept. 10, 2012. He was admitted to Saint Thomas Hospital on Oct. 17
suffering from chills, fever, dizziness and weakness and lower extremity
"He was diagnosed with fungal meningitis after steroid
injections," the complaint states. "From the time of Mr. Patel's illness
to his death he experienced extreme conscious physical pain and mental
The 34-page complaint states that the elder Patel was
first hospitalized for two days shortly after his second shot and then
readmitted in October.
Named as defendants in the case are the
owners of NECC, which has shut down and filed for bankruptcy. Other
defendants include Ameridose, a sister company of NECC; Medical Sales
Management, the sales arm for the two companies; and a testing company
hired by NECC to check the sterility of its products.
The plaintiff is Pinal Patel, a grandson of the victim and the personal representative of his estate.
suit is one of several being filed as a deadline approaches under the
state health-care liability statute, which carries a one-year time limit
for filing a claim.