The first victim of the fungal meningitis outbreak in Tennessee was most likely Kentucky Circuit Judge Eddie C. Lovelace of Albany, 78, who died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Sept. 17. John Dreyzehner, Tennessee's commissioner of health, said Friday that the number of Tennesseans affected by the meningitis outbreak has now risen to 29. The number of deaths is unchanged at three. The search for more affected patients will continue "for some time," he said. Investigators haven't found evidence that the clinics or clinicians in Tennessee did anything to cause the outbreak.
In July and August, Lovelace received three rounds of the pain-relieving steroid injections suspected of causing the outbreak of the rare disease, Joyce Lovelace, his wife of 55 years, told Adam Tamburin of The Tennessean. Representatives from the Saint Thomas Hospital Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, where he received the injections, are reported to have called Joyce Lovelace twice after his death to discuss his condition. They did not mention the outbreak, she said, nor have they confirmed that that was his cause of death.
Vanderbilt spokespeople have confirmed to the newspaper that "the first reported casualty of the outbreak was a 78-year-old man who died there on Sept. 17." Doctors told his family that his unexpected death was likely caused by a stroke, which is common among critically ill meningitis patients. His symptoms -- slurred speech, trouble walking and numbness -- are consistent with symptoms of fungal meningitis.
Lovelace had been a circuit court judge for two decades, and commonwealth's attorney and county attorney before that. “He always wanted to be known as a judge who knew the law, and he certainly was.” Joyce Lovelace said. “His career was not over. He had years yet to work.” (Read more) Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear may fill Lovelace's nonpartisan vacancy with state Sen. David Williams of Burkesville, who has been president of the Senate since Republicans took formal control of the chamber in 2000.