INDIANAPOLIS — The family of a southern Michigan woman said Thursday they believe she died of fungal meningitis after receiving two injections of a tainted back pain medication at a northern Indiana clinic.
Pauline Burema, 89, of Cassopolis, Mich., died Wednesday at a daughter’s home in Bristol, Ind., said the woman’s granddaughter, Lisa Ann Durbin.
The family was awaiting autopsy results to confirm the cause of death, Durbin said. However, doctors told the family they think Burema had contracted fungal meningitis from shots she received Aug. 22 and Sept. 8 at OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed an Indiana fungal meningitis death Thursday, and Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman at the Michigan Department of Community Health, said a Cass County, Mich., resident died of fungal meningitis after being treated for back pain in Indiana. Cassopolis is in Cass County.
Burema was found unconscious Oct. 3 in her home about 15 miles north of Elkhart, Durbin said. She had seen her doctor just two days earlier.
“She was in perfect health. She was getting ready to go to New Mexico for the balloon festival,” Durbin, of Decatur, Mich., said in a telephone interview.
The family initially believed Burema suffered a stroke, and she was admitted to an Elkhart County hospital, Durbin said. She regained consciousness, but her condition worsened, and Burema spent her final days at her daughter’s Bristol home.
The family was “pretty upset” when doctors said she contracted meningitis from the steroids she took for recurring back pain, Durbin said.
“It’s kind of a devastating way to pass away. You could tell she was in a lot of pain,” Durbin said. She said her grandmother was being treated with morphine, other painkillers and several different antibiotics. Burema also had a “growing” black fungus inside her mouth before she died, Durbin said.
The family decided to donate Burema’s body for research, Durbin said.
“What our family is hoping is that they can find a cure to maybe help out all the other patients so that not everybody has to die,” she said.
The tainted steroid originated at the New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass.
Don Hammond, chief executive officer of the Elkhart clinic, said 400 patients there received injections from three lots of the tainted medicine, and all have been notified of the threat of contracting meningitis.
The Indiana State Department of Health said 21 cases of fungal meningitis linked to the steroid have been confirmed in Indiana and 1,568 people were exposed to the contaminated medication through an epidural or joint injection at the Elkhart clinic or clinics in Columbus, Evansville, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Terre Haute.
“All exposed patients in Indiana have been contacted by their healthcare provider,” Indiana Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin said in a statement. “It is important to remember that fungal meningitis is not contagious as it is not transmitted from person to person.”
The CDC said the meningitis outbreak has reached 170 cases and 14 deaths in 11 states.
Patients who have received a steroid injection on or after May 21 and are experiencing symptoms — such as a new or worsening headache, fever, neck stiffness or pain, redness or swelling at the injection site — should immediately contact their physician to receive further evaluation, the department said.
Associated Press writers Charlie Wilson in Indianapolis and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.