Some people who survived last year's deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis are now facing a new challenge that will likely last much longer.
The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate 140 cases in Tennessee connected to the outbreak, including 14 deaths.
However, those now on the road to recovery are stuck with questions while holding large hospital tabs.
For months, Herb Mathias has been terrified, wondering if he'll make it.
"No matter how much they tell me, I'll never be 100 percent certain that I'm not going to have meningitis," Mathias said.
Mathias is one of the St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center patients who received a tainted spinal epidural injection supplied by the now closed New England Compounding Center. After two excruciating spinal taps, doctors ruled he had not contracted the deadly fungal meningitis, but he did come down with a secondary infection at his injection site.
"He just ended up with this great big cyst with the fungus in it," said girlfriend Sarah Neeley.
Now, Mathias is taking verizanocole - the same anti-fungal therapy given to patients who have fungal meningitis. It's the only known treatment for this mystery disease, and without it, patients could die.
Mathias is paying more than $2,700 a month for the medicine, and that's with his insurance covering some of the bill.
"They told me I would be on it for 90 days, then most probably another 90," Mathias said.
The cost of this treatment could run many patients financially dry, so Mathias said he believes St. Thomas should pick up the tab not just for himself, but also for all the patients who received tainted epidural shots at the Nashville outpatient clinic.
"I want them to take care of everybody's. That's what they should honorably do. If they can't, the state should close the doors on them," Mathias said.
In a statement Monday evening, St. Thomas officials said:
"We recognize that affected patients and their families will likely face a complex array of billing and claim payment issues associated with their screening and possible treatment. For patients without insurance, and consistent with our longstanding commitment to caring for those who are poor and vulnerable, our existing charity care policies would apply."
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