‘The Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Could It Have Been Prevented?’

Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Joyce Lovelace testifies in front of Congressional hearing

In the weeks since the untimely death of Clinton Circuit Judge Eddie C. Lovelace, there have been countless articles and news accounts of the circumstances surrounding his death by local, state and national news media outlets and organizations.

Last week, his widow, Joyce Lovelace, who worked alongside Judge Lovelace in their office for more than 50 years, traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Congressional hearing.

That hearing last Wednesday, November 14, was in front of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and centered around the many deaths and illnesses nationwide that have been linked to tainted steroid injections that were manufactured by a Massachusetts drug compounding firm, the New England Compounding Company.

The hearing was entitled “The Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Could It Have Been Prevented?”

Judge Lovelace died on December 17 at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, after suffering what was then believed to have been a stroke at his home, and additional strokes after being hospitalized.

It was only after his funeral that the family began learning about a host of extenuating circumstances surrounding his death and the involvement of a series of steroid injections he had received earlier at a Nashville clinic.

Prior to her testimony last week before the Congressional Subcommittee, Joyce Lovelace was introduced by U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield (KY-01), who told the panel that not only was the Lovelace family constituents of his 1st Congressional District, but had long been great personal friends.

“We talk about statistics and figures, and yet, when you look at the individual lives involved it makes all of the difference in the World.”

Whitfield spoke of Lovelace’s involvement not only with the legal community in the county and state during his long political career, but of his involvements as a civic leader in the community as well.

“He was one of the legal scholars in Kentucky, had also served as a chief prosecutor, a county attorney and he was one of those people involved in every aspect in the community of Albany.”

During her testimony, which lasted over 10 minutes in length, Joyce Lovelace gave a brief history of the days and weeks leading up to her husband’s death, noting that he had been planning on finishing out the two remaining years of his term as Circuit Judge, then going back into private practice with his granddaughter.

“I am very much encouraged by what I have heard from you today, that you do plan to move on this and investigate this matter,” Lovelace began her address to the House Subcommittee. “That is basically what my family and I desire is to get to the bottom of this and make sure that it never happens to another family because we have lived a nightmare.”

Speaking without the benefit of prepared notes, she explained that her words were in honor of her late husband, and were coming from her heart.”

“I don’t have any notes, because my husband hated notes, so I’m just speaking from the heart, and I think he would not want me to have notes,” she said.

She explained that they were married while he was in law school, and when he graduated, they moved to Albany where he began a law practice, and immediately began becoming involved in community and civic matters here.

“He taught Sunday School for 42 years and he was still teaching when he passed away,” she said.

She added that the company which manufactured the drug that was later determined to be tainted with a fungus, and many others that also produce medical compounds, do so with little or no federal regulation, and often are operating in violation of both federal and state laws.

“My family is bitter, we are angry, we’re heartbroken and we’re devastated. I come here begging you to do something about this manner,” she said

Judge Lovelace was being given the spinal injections in an effort to help him overcome back pain he had been suffering following an automobile accident he had been involved in this past March.

She noted that after Judge Lovelace had received the second injection, she began to see notable decline in her husband’s health and grew increasingly concerned.

“Where he had walked those streets every morning, he was stumbling, he was losing his balance, and he fell often,”she said. “I was really concerned about his appearance, he had the look of someone who might have cancer.”

His condition continued to deteriorate in the following days, until the morning of November 11, when he fell twice in the yard that morning while trying to retrieve his newspaper. It was then that he was taken to the local emergency room and later transferred to Vanderbilt, where he died less than a week later.

“They admitted him into Vanderbilt on the 12th and he immediately began declining fast – I mean rapidly. It was a nightmare to see this man who was perfectly healthy one moment, and then just so quickly going downhill. Everything the doctors were doing for him, was to no avail,” she said. “On the 17th, he passed away, and it was not an easy death that we witnessed.”

Referring to the agencies that should have been in charge of regulating and monitoring companies such as the New England Compounding Company, she asked for Congress to continue its investigation.

“Whoever is responsible, I want them to know that their lack of attention to their duties, cost my husband his life, cost my family a loss that they will never recover from,” she said. “If you don’t do your job, it may not appear to be anything to you, but you are affecting human lives.”

She then urged Congress and the committee overseeing the hearing, to continue to seek not only answers to the many questions as to how this could have happened, but find ways to prevent similar situations from ever happening again.

“I cannot beg you enough – bipartisan, I don’t care what party – work together to legislate this so no other family has to go through it,” she concluded.

A view of Joyce Lovelace’s complete testimony last week, including Rep. Whitfield’s introductory comments, can be viewed here: