Health & Medicine

Kentucky circuit judge died of fungal meningitis, his widow says

A longtime circuit judge from Southern Kentucky might have been the first victim of a fungal meningitis outbreak that has killed five people and sickened dozens of others in several states.

The judge, Eddie C. Lovelace, of Albany, died Sept. 17 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He was 78.

The Tennessean reported Friday that unnamed hospital spokespeople had confirmed the first reported casualty of the meningitis outbreak was a 78-year-old man who died Sept. 17 at the facility.

Jennifer Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said later Friday that the facility does not confirm causes of death of people who die there.

However, Lovelace's widow, Joyce Lovelace, told the Herald-Leader that Lovelace had been treated at a Nashville clinic that has been implicated in the outbreak.

The clinic and health authorities have not confirmed to Lovelace that her husband of 55 years was a victim of fungal meningitis, but she is convinced that is the case.

The indications fit, she said: Lovelace received three steroid injections, which federal authorities are investigating as the cause of the outbreak; he was treated at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, which had a number of other patients who reportedly developed meningitis after receiving steroid shots; and he had a stroke, which the Centers for Disease Control said has happened to a number of patients sickened in the outbreak.

A doctor said Lovelace's stroke was not typical, and he deteriorated despite treatment efforts, his widow said Friday.

"It was just such a waste of human life," she said. "I have felt so helpless through this whole thing."

Lovelace was an avid walker and was fit — not the kind of person who would be expected to have a stroke, his wife said.

Lovelace's car was rear-ended in May, and he had gone to the Tennessee clinic for injections for back pain, Joyce Lovelace said.

He received the last treatment Aug. 31.

The CDC said Friday that the number of people with meningitis linked to epidural steroid injections had grown to 47 in seven states, most of them in Tennessee, and that five people had died.

The agency does not count any cases in Kentucky. Lovelace's case would be counted in Tennessee.

The company that made the suspect medication, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., has recalled the drug and voluntarily shut down, according to the CDC.

The drug went to more than 20 states.

Joyce Lovelace said the Tennessee clinic where he husband received steroid shots called her three days after he died to see how he was doing.

The next day, someone from the clinic called again to see what his symptoms had been before he died and whether there had been an autopsy, but still didn't mention the meningitis outbreak, she said.

Lovelace, circuit judge for Clinton, Cumberland and Monroe counties, had been on the bench 20 years and had served as commonwealth's attorney and county attorney earlier.

Attorneys who knew him lauded his fairness, preparation, deep knowledge of the law and sense of humor.

Lovelace loved his job and wasn't ready to give it up, said Joyce Lovelace, who worked with him.

"I want some attention to this problem so another family doesn't have to go through this," she said.