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Meningitis outbreak: Victim in Jamestown files suit

12:31 PM, Nov 15, 2012   |    comments
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It was just after a Titans game when Nashville native Dennis O'Brien was hit with a massive headache -- and it had nothing to do with the score

The headache was followed by vomiting and diarrhea, but it was only after the news broke the next day that he and his family realized what had happened.

"My daughter is a nurse and she called and said, 'Dad, you have meningitis.'"

The headache came 16 days after O'Brien, 59, had undergone the second in a series of steroid shots in his neck for a degenerative disc condition.

O'Brien said that after seven neck and back surgeries, he had sought relief from injections of methylprednisolone administered at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center.

"I'd wake up in the middle of the night and it would feel like rockets were shooting out of my fingers," he said. The condition forced the Jamestown resident to end his 25-year teaching career.

On Wednesday, O'Brien's lawyer, Mike Walker, filed suit in Davidson County Circuit Court against the Massachusetts drug firm, the New England Compounding Center, that sent the tainted vials of spinal steroid to the Saint Thomas clinic. The suit is the latest among dozens to be filed in Nashville and state and federal courts across the country.

The suit charges that NECC's actions caused injury not only to O'Brien but to hundreds of others across the country.

The suit notes that New England Compounding and affiliated companies never registered to do business in the state despite a requirement that they do so.

The 15-page complaint charges that the defendants were guilty of negligence for locating a compounding drug facility directly adjacent to "a trash recycling center" in Framingham, Mass., owned by some of the same principals.

Using that location despite the need for a clean and sterile environment "is a gross deviation from the duty to exercise ordinary care," the complaint states.

In addition to NECC, defendants in the suit include Ameridose, another drug firm with common ownership, and Medical Sales Management, which acted as a sales operation for the two drug firms.

Also named as a defendant was Dr. Douglas Conigliaro, a Florida-licensed anesthetist and pain physician who is the brother of NECC's cofounder, Gregory Conigliaro. Douglas Conigliaro is an officer of Medical Sales Management and a separate company that owns the property in Westborough, Mass., where Ameridose is located.

O'Brien said he was hospitalized for two weeks with fungal meningitis and then underwent two weeks of intravenous treatment at home.

He said he will be on medication for another six to nine months, and the medications have serious side effects.

"I haven't woken up and felt good a single day," he said.

Contact Walter F. Roche Jr. at 615-259-8086 or wroche@tennessean.com.

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