BRISTOL — Family members of an 89-year-old southern Michigan woman whose death may be linked to a multistate fungal meningitis outbreak described her as “fiercely independent and caring.”
Pauline Burema died at her daughter’s home in Elkhart County late Wednesday afternoon, seven weeks after she received two injections for back pain at the OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart. The clinic reported earlier this month that it received batches of medication that had been recalled.
A rash of meningitis cases have turned up in 13 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 15 deaths, including two in Indiana and three in Michigan, related to fungal infections, according to the most recent CDC data.
Marsha Martin, who lives in Bristol, said her mother was a dedicated volunteer at Elkhart General Hospital for 25 years. Burema lived in a farmhouse in Cassopolis, Mich., where she enjoyed gardening and baking, Martin said.
“She was very independent,” she said.
Martin said her mother had back surgery about 10 years ago and had a relatively clean bill of health up until three or four months ago when she started to complain about back pain again. Martin said Burema was treated for a stroke earlier this month and was showing signs of improving days before her death, but then she started running a fever. By that time, Martin said news had surfaced that the clinic had received tainted back pain medication.
“They asked us to sign for a spinal tap, which we did, and it came back cloudy, so they started treating her for meningitis,” Martin said. “She wasn’t getting any better. I could see from looking at her, she wasn’t improving at all.”
Martin brought her mother back to her home in Bristol, where she said Burema died peacefully.
“I feel like anybody would feel, that it’s unbelieveable at first that anything like this could be happening,” Martin said, adding that her family is still awaiting final results from Burema’s autopsy.
Carol Snyder, Burema’s youngest daughter, said she was devastated when she found out that her mother could have been exposed to fungal meningitis, which is caused by a fungus traveling through blood to the spinal cord.
“It’s hard,” said Snyder, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. “It’s life changing. It almost makes you not want to get certain treatments because who knows?”
Martin, a nurse who worked at Elkhart General Hospital for 10 years, said she does not blame the health professionals at OSMC for what happened to her mother.
“I know how dedicated the nurses and doctors at OSMC and the hospital are, that nobody would ever do anything purposefully harmful,” Martin said. “We feel so sad for the other families that have younger members of their family and friends who are ill because of this tragedy that’s going on. Our mother was 89. She had a great life and had touched many lives.”