A 16-year-old is likely the youngest person to be infected by batch of tainted steroid doses.
BRISTOL — A teenage girl who was fighting for her life at Elkhart General Hospital is back at home and even returned to school Wednesday, but she still has a long road of recovery ahead of her.
Karissa Klemm, 16, is one of 48 people in Indiana who contracted a rare infection after receiving tainted steroid injections. She injured her back three years ago jumping on a trampoline. She had been getting spinal injections every three to four months to reduce the swelling of a herniated disc pinching a nerve in her lower back. Karissa’s most recent injection in September, administered at OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart, was part of a contaminated batch of medications that led her to develop fungal meningitis.
There have been 377 cases of fungal meningitis confirmed in 19 states. Three people have died after receiving injections in Indiana, all linked to OSMC. There have been 28 deaths across the country attributed to the infection.
Karissa was among the 400 patients that OSMC contacted in the beginning of October after the tainted medications were recalled. She started getting headaches, her stomach hurt and her neck was stiff.
“I thought I had the flu,” said Karissa, who may be the youngest fungal meningitis victim in the state.
A spinal tap at Elkhart General Hospital revealed that she had fungal meningitis. She stayed at the hospital for 10 days in the same unit as other patients being treated for the infection.
“She felt horrible,” said Karissa’s mother, Tracy Klemm.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were still seven patients being treated at Elkhart General Hospital for fungal meningitis. At one point, doctors and nurses there were caring for as many as 18 people with the infection.
Karissa returned home on Oct. 20.
“It’s better than being in the hospital,” she said. “It’s hard, though, because I have so many doctor’s appointments and my schoolwork.”
Karissa was able to return to Northridge High School in Middlebury on Wednesday. But she didn’t make it through the entire school day because the medications that she takes make her groggy and easily exhausted. Karissa said her friends were happy to see her but didn’t fully understand that she is still recovering.
“They think because I’m out of the hospital that I’m 100 percent better, but that’s not the case,” Karissa said.
Karissa has to take antifungal medications twice a day for the next three months, but doctors said her prescriptions could be extended for another six months to a year. She also isn’t done with visits to the hospital. Among other appointments, she has blood drawn every Thursday and meets with an infectious disease physician every other week. Tracy said her daughter is anemic, she has low magnesium and potassium levels, and her liver is on overdrive.
Tracy filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter on Oct. 25 against the New England Compounding Center, a drug manufacturer in Framingham, Mass., that produced the tainted steroid medications linked to the infections. At least six other OSMC patients have filed lawsuits in Elkhart County against the company. The drugs were recalled Sept. 26 after being supplied to about 75 clinics in 23 states. OSMC has not been named in any of the lawsuits.
The antifungal medications that Karissa has to take are expensive, Tracy said. She estimates that the drugs cost $4,000 a month, and she is expecting the hospital bill to be sky high. The Klemm family’s insurance plan covers some expenses, and CVS Pharmacy also stepped up to help with the cost of medications, Tracy said.
The past few weeks have been tough, Karissa said, but she is looking forward to the day when she doesn’t have to worry about taking medications. Karissa, who turned 16 in July, said the first thing she wants to do when she has fully recovered is to get a driver’s permit, something she had planned to do before she developed fungal meningitis.