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Soldier's $7M lawsuit over meningitis alleges tainted medicine

Sep. 11, 2013 - 05:26PM   |  
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A Tennessee soldier stricken with fungal meningitis after a spinal injection he received at a Nashville health clinic has filed a $7 million federal lawsuit alleging negligence.

The lawsuit says Sgt. Joshua Kirkwood, 24, of Adams, Tenn., received a steroid injection contaminated with fungal meningitis while being treated for an unspecified back injury.

“By the time Joshua Kirkwood was able to see an [A]rmy physician, his speech was slurred,” says the 56-page complaint, filed Sept. 5 in U.S. District Court in Nashville.

Doctors removed one of Kirkwood’s vertebra and an abscess, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville after he was airlifted to military hospitals in Germany and the U.S., according to the lawsuit.

There have been 750 cases of fungal meningitis, 64 of them fatal, linked to contaminated lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Named as defendants in Kirkwood’s lawsuit are the individual owners of the New England Compounding Center, the now-closed company blamed by regulators for shipping the tainted steroids to health facilities across the country. Other defendants include the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center and the Howell Allen Clinic, part owner of the outpatient center.

Kirkwood’s lawsuit, first reported by The Tennessean, alleges the Howell Allen Clinic referred Kirkwood to Saint Thomas Neurosurgical Center, where he received an injection of tainted methylprednisolone acetate Aug. 31, 2012.

Reached by phone by Army Times, Kirkwood declined to comment for this article and said he was not permitted to discuss details of his service.

Kirkwood was deployed in mid-September, and on Sept. 28, someone from Saint Thomas Neurosurgical Center called to ask how he was doing, according to the lawsuit.

“The caller from Saint Thomas Neurosurgical left a voice mail and did not mention anything about possible meningitis,” it states. “No one told Mr. Kirkwood that he was at risk of contracting fungal meningitis.”

Days later, Kirkwood’s platoon leader learned about the outbreak, asked Kirkwood if he was experiencing any symptoms and told him to see a medic.

Kirkwood was experiencing symptoms consistent with meningitis: headaches, stiffness in his neck and an intolerance to bright light.

Kirkwood was sent to an Army hospital in Germany, where he was diagnosed and treated for four days. He was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he stayed for two weeks.

Kirkwood and his wife, Vanessa, are seeking damages for his physical and mental anguish, lost earnings and medical expenses — as well as punitive damages.

“The long-term effects of Joshua Kirkwood’s illness are unknown,” the lawsuit states.

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