Cassopolis woman dies from fungal meningitis

Published 7:42 pm Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Cassopolis woman has died from fungal meningitis contracted from steroid injections received at an Elkhart, Ind., clinic.

Pauline Burema, 89, was “perfectly healthy” before a relative found her unconscious on her bathroom floor Oct. 3, her granddaughter, Lisa Durbin, of Decatur, said Thursday. She confirmed an autopsy has been completed.

Burema died at 5:20 p.m. Wednesday at a relative’s home in Bristol, Ind. — one week after her family learned she had contracted fungal meningitis from a tainted steroid shot she received at the Orthopedic Sports Medicine Center (OSMC) in Elkhart. She received injections on Aug. 22 and Sept. 8.

“We’re not sure if both of them were tainted,” Durbin said.

Burema, a widow and mother of five children, had just purchased an airplane ticket to visit a daughter in New Mexico before she was found unconscious. She previously had back surgeries, and the injections were for pain relief.

“Initially, we thought it was as stroke,” Durbin said. The family learned Oct. 4 that fungal meningitis was spreading across the country.

“As the doctors progressed, it had been made aware she had two steroid injections in her back,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fungal meningitis is rare, and is usually the spread of a fungus through blood to the spinal cord. People with weak immune systems are at higher risk, although anyone can contract it. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck and altered mental status. The disease is treated with high doses of antifungal medications.

Three lots of contaminated injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate from the New England Compounding Center were recalled Sept. 26. The potentially contaminated injections were given starting May 21.

Durbin is concerned the meningitis is spreading so quickly across the U.S.

“There’s going to be a lot of people affected by this. It’s a very rapid moving fungus,” she said. “It was just a week ago she was found and she was found a week go the day.”

Durbin said Burema’s body has been donated to medical research.

Services for Burema will be held Oct. 20 at Ontwa Baptist Church in Edwardsburg.

Durbin had no comment on whether the family will take legal action.