While two Chattanooga health care providers try to avoid getting pulled into the legal fallout erupting from a statewide meningitis outbreak, one local man says he is battling the effects from injections that originated from a contaminated Massachusetts facility and were shipped to Tennessee.
Gary Volpe, of Signal Mountain, injured his back while working as a cook last July. When the pain sharpened, doctors at Chattanooga Neurosurgery and Spine (CNS) diagnosed him with a herniated disc and a pinched nerve in his neck.
Doctors with the surgery group recommended steroid injections, saying the pain would be alleviated.
But after receiving the injections from one of those doctors at an outpatient facility, Chattanooga Surgery Center, the ache only got worse.
"I started to get terrible headaches and pain began to shoot up and down my arm," Volpe said in a statement. "I was forgetting things and struggled with admitting it. It was so irritating my wife actually thought I was getting early onset Alzheimer's disease and she insisted I see my internist."
In October, he received letters from both CNS and the Chattanooga Surgery Center, warning that the medication he received was from the New England Compounding Center -- the Massachusetts drug manufacturer at the root of last year's devastating meningitis outbreak.
More than 700 patients nationwide have confirmed illnesses related to tainted NECC products. At least 58 people died after exposure to the drug -- 15 of whom were from Tennessee.
While the drug Volpe was treated with was not the one directly linked to the meningitis outbreak, officials cautioned "out of an abundance of caution" that other products from the NECC could be affected.
His current doctor has since told him that there could be long-term consequences from tainted steroid injections. He's now out of work as a result of his illness, he said.
"I feel as if my life has been devastated," said Volpe, describing a daily battle with headaches, pain, fatigue and memory problems. "The fear of the next symptom or injury that is to come weighs heavy on me every day."
CNS and Erlanger Health System were among dozens of hospitals and clinics served subpoenas in June, in connection with a large, multidistrict federal lawsuit against the New England Compounding Center.
Attorneys have claimed that two local patients -- one treated by each provider -- became sick from contaminated drugs that originated from the NECC.
Those attorneys have emphasized that the subpoenas "should not be interpreted as an allegation of wrongdoing on the part of the clinic."
The subpoenas' purpose, they say, is to both identify all potential victims -- who may not even know they're claimants in the case; and to define a network of how the tainted drugs were purchased, distributed, stored and administered to patients.
"We hope that the information collected from the clinics will assist us in our pursuit of justice on behalf of Mr. Volpe and victims of this tragedy nationwide," said Kim Dougherty, a Boston-based attorney and member of the steering committee handling the multidistrict lawsuit.
But lawyers representing the neurosurgery doctors' group say the subpoenas "amount to little more than a fishing expedition for potential clients," the motion reads.
CNS, which has filed to have the subpoenas overruled by a judge, said they "never purchased any products from New England Compounding Pharmacy," but acknowledged that some of the group's patients were injected with NECC drugs at Chattanooga Surgery Center -- an outpatient surgery facility, which provides doctors with equipment and injections.
In sworn testimony filed July 17, Dr. Paul Hoffman, physician and owner of CNS, stated that the neurosurgical group was never aware of any NECC medications causing illness in any of its patients.
A second sickened Chattanooga patient, allegedly treated at Erlanger, has not yet been identified -- but is being represented in the victims' lawsuit. Erlanger attorneys also have filed a response challenging those subpoenas.
"It is important to note that we have gone on the record -- repeatedly -- stating Erlanger did not purchase any of the contaminated products from NECC," Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.
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