DETROIT — Days after taking his wife off life support, George Cary got a phone call that confirmed his suspicions: Her meningitis-related death was linked to tainted steroid injections at a Michigan clinic that had regularly treated her back pain.
The doctor on the call had more tough news. Cary's own back injections in September may have come from a contaminated batch too.
Cary went to an emergency room last weekend for a spinal tap. The test results aren't in yet, so he is left to wait and say goodbye to his wife, 67-year-old Lilian Cary, at a memorial service today.
"They advised me to watch for symptoms," Cary, 65, told The Associated Press from a funeral home in Howell, 60 miles northwest of Detroit. "At this point, there's nothing abnormal, but they said the same thing when Lilian had hers. ... Not only have I lost my wife, but I'm watching the clock to see if anything develops."
Michigan has at least 21 cases of meningitis related to steroid shots made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. Those cases include the deaths of Lilian Cary and a 56-year-old woman whose identity and hometown haven't been released by public health officials.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and a back injection would put any contaminant in more direct contact with that lining. Separately, a Michigan resident developed a nonmeningitis fungal infection after being injected in a joint, not the back, the state Department of Community Health reported.
Lilian Cary died Sept. 30. She had been ill since late August, but meningitis wasn't detected until Sept. 22, her husband said.
Nonetheless, her health seemed to be improving at University of Michigan hospital.
"She was responding to medication. Her spirits were up. Her fever was broken," George Cary said. "She was walking the hallway and Skyping with grandsons."
But she became unresponsive Sept. 26, and eventually was removed from life support after suffering a stroke, he said.
Cary said he was informed Saturday that his wife had been treated with tainted steroids for back pain. The doctor at Michigan Pain Specialists in Brighton, one of four Michigan clinics to get shipments from the Massachusetts pharmacy, said Cary also was at risk.
"The whole staff is devastated," said Cary, who declined to disclose the doctor's name. "The people there are professionals. I have the greatest respect for their care. They truly care about the people they treat. They're suffering just as much as I am."
No one could be reached for comment Monday at Michigan Pain Specialists. The phone number was repeatedly busy.
Lilian Cary was a native of Stoke-on-Trent, England, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 to work as a nanny. The Carys met in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and were married in 1977. They moved to Michigan in 2000 after many years in the St. Louis area and have lived in Howell since 2003.
Lilian Cary liked to play bunco, a dice game, and belonged to a club that welcomed transplants like herself to Livingston County.
"I've lost my best friend," George Cary said.