When long-time Circuit Judge Eddie C. Lovelace passed away over three weeks ago at a Nashville, Tennessee hospital, everyone at that point–including his wife and family–believed it was the result of complications from a stroke he had suffered at his home a few days earlier.
That diagnosis, along with other cases in Tennessee and other states, has now drastically changed with the revelation that a steroid epidural medication was tainted with a virus that may have led to Judge Lovelace’s death. Several other victims who received the spinal shots for pain contracted a form of meningitis which ultimately led to their deaths.
Although now the Lovelace family has a lawyer looking into the matter working to officially confirm the exact cause of death, Lovelace’ wife of 55 years, Joyce, believes her husband did, in fact, succumb to meningitis after looking at the facts as presented and revealed about its outbreak in recent days and weeks.
According to a published report online last Friday from The Tennessean, a Nashville daily newspaper, Lovelace was the probable “first victim” of the fungal meningitis outbreak in Tennessee. He died at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville on September 17, just days after showing symptoms of a stroke.
In July and August, Judge Lovelace received three rounds of pain-relieving steroid injections suspected of causing the outbreak of the rare disease, according to Joyce Lovelace, who told the Clinton County News last Friday that his last of three treatments at Saint Thomas Hospital Hall Allen Clinic in Nashville was on August 31.
Joyce Lovelace said that representatives from the Saint Thomas Neurosurgery Center, where he had received the injections, called her twice–after Lovelace’s death–to discuss his condition, but did not mention either time the (meningitis) outbreak. She further said that during the second call, the person inquired about his symptoms and questioned whether or not an autopsy had been performed.
She told the Nashville newspaper, “They have not confirmed that he died from that…but I am convinced that he did.” She also said the calls inquiring about her husband’s condition came days after the clinic had closed on September 20.
Joyce Lovelace learned of the meningitis outbreak and possibility of that causing her husband’s death via internet reports last Wednesday. She said the three injections he had received fell into the time frame as to when the side-effects would occur.
Lovelace feels now that Judge Lovelace may not have had a stroke after all, since the symptoms of meningitis are very similar in nature to those of a stroke and added that everything they did at Vanderbilt to treat him for a stroke didn’t work.
She further added that early on in his hospital stay, doctors felt confident as to his recovery and discussed rehab.
“I didn’t think he was a candidate for a stroke,” she said. He walked all the time and was a non-smoker. Also, a routine physical check-up in early September revealed nothing out of the ordinary, she explained.
Lovelace noted that on September 11, the day before her husband was hospitalized, he began showing some symptoms of what may have been a stroke, including headaches and some numbness in his hands. The following day when he went outside to get the newspaper, he fell twice and when taken to the emergency room, it was diagnosed that he had probably suffered a light stroke.
Although Vanderbilt did not specify Judge Lovelace by name, a spokesperson confirmed to The Tennessean the first reported casualty of the outbreak was a 78-year-old man who died there on September 17.
The report also said that when he died, doctors told his family that his unexpected death was likely caused by a stroke, which is common among critically ill meningitis patients. His symptoms–slurred speech, trouble walking and numbness–are consistent with symptoms of fungal meningitis.
Lovelace told the Clinton County News last week that although her husband may have been close to retirement from the bench, having two years left on the term, he was not going to retire but remain practicing law with his granddaughter, Meagan Thompson. She said she felt that his life was cut short.
After learning about the possibility that the cause of death may have been from a medical treatment related cause rather than natural, she said “I felt bitter, angry…all while still grieving. I felt about every emotion in the book,” she added.
Lovelace and her family have turned the matter over to the family’s attorney, Thomas Carroll, who is working to find the answers as to the exact cause of Judge Lovelace’s death.
According to a published report in the Saturday, October 6 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) said that the number of people (through last Friday) 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 doesn’t count any cases in Kentucky. Lovelace’s case would be counted in Tennessee.
Lovelace had received the injections to treat back pain that had followed a recent automobile accident.
The company that made the suspect medication, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, has recalled the drug and voluntarily shut down, according to the CDC.
The drug went to more than 20 states.
Lovelace also told the Herald-Leader, “I want some attention to this problem so another family doesn’t have to go through this.”
The two kinds of fungus linked to the outbreak–Aspergillus and Exserohilum– are found in plenty of places and rarely make people sick.
Both were detected in patients with meningitis that occurred after the contaminated steroid was injected into the spinal column of some patients getting pain treatments. That provides a rapid way for fungus to cause a serious infection. It wasn’t clear how the fungi got into the medication made by the specialty pharmacy.
At the time of his September 17 death in Nashville, Lovelace was one of Albany and Clinton County’s best known and most prominant citiens, having served an unprecedented 46 years in public office.
Judge Lovelace began his public career as Albany City Attorney in the 1960s. In 1965 he was elected, unopposed, as Clinton County Attorney.
In 1969 he was elected Commonwealth Attorney, defeating W.C. Dabney of Monticello in the GOP primary and defeated Jack Miller of Russell County in the General Election.
Lovelace was unopposed in 1975; he defeated W. Elijah Coffey (R) and Robert L. Bertram (D) in 1981; he was unopposed in 1987. In 1991 he defeated the incumbent Circuit Judge, Philip R. Morgan of Wayne County, and had served as Circuit Judge since 1992 running unopposed since then.
Lovelace was named Kentucky Trial Judge of the Year in 1995 and also served as Republican Chairman of the 5th Congressional District from 1978-1980. He served as Clinton County Republican Chairman from 1988-1990.
In 2009, Lovelace was honored by the Albany Clinton County Chamber of Commerce when he was named Public Servant of the Year.