Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Imagine your teenage son was injected with tainted medicine, causing fungal meningitis that landed him in the hospital for 17 days. Imagine he was one of 749 such victims nationwide (54 in Virginia) and that 63 of those victims died.
Imagine all that medicine was prepared in a contaminated pharmacy, next to a trash dump, by a company that earned millions exploiting a loophole in 20-year-old federal regulations. Imagine imploring Congress to close that loophole, so others would be spared the same fate.
Finally, imagine Republicans and Democrats pointing fingers of blame in different directions, while little got done. Imagine more people getting sick during all that congressional thumb-twiddling.
Sadly, Ben and Andrea Foutz of Cotton Hill in southwest Roanoke County don’t have to imagine any of that stuff. They’re living it. It’s an understatement to call them frustrated.
The good news is, their son Zac’s health is improving. The junior at Cave Spring High School is back playing football after a difficult struggle last fall and winter.
He had to quit the team partway through last season. He missed two and a half months of school, including the basketball season. During the time in the hospital, the infection so inflamed Zac’s optic nerves that he had to stay in a dark room or wear a blindfold. The nurses used to enter his room carrying flashlights.
Doctors performed multiple MRIs. After Zac was released from the hospital, he had weekly blood draws for three months while he took a powerful antifungal medicine. Recently he had a whole-body bone scan.
He’s still being treated by doctors, who have given him 11 spinal taps. Those are excruciatingly painful for him.
Ben Foutz told me the doctors can’t say if the fungal meningitis is going to come back, or what Zac’s long-term prognosis is. Zac’s spinal taps are still showing some remnants of the fungus. But it’s unclear whether those are dead or alive.
“I asked the doctor, ‘Will he be cured?’ ” Ben Foutz said. The answer was that “clinically he’s cured.” But the doctor compared it to cancer, Foutz added. He couldn’t promise there would be no relapse.
That’s a worry that will always be in the back of the Foutzes’ minds.
Besides the worry there’s understandable outrage — about partisan gridlock in Washington. Congressional efforts to pass a law to better regulate pharmacies like the one that made and sold the tainted medicine have largely stalled.
The steroid injection that sickened Zac was produced by New England Compounding Center, a specialized pharmacy in Massachusetts that has since been shut down. Compounding pharmacies like it are regulated by states, not the federal government.
Before this year, regulators in states such as Colorado and Idaho would not let NECC sell medicine in their jurisdictions, Foutz said. There was no such bar in Virginia, though.
This year, the General Assembly passed a law that forbids out-of-state compounding pharmacies from selling drugs in Virginia unless they’ve passed a current inspection in their home state. Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, said he’s considering introducing stronger legislation in the Virginia General Assembly’s 2014 session.
On the federal level there’s a different story. In Congress, Senate Democrats are working on a bill that would close the loophole and allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate compounding pharmacies that ship across state lines. In the House, Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, has drafted legislation but it’s not yet been introduced. He wants it to be bipartisan. He’s had trouble attracting Democratic co-sponsors.
That’s partly because Democrats and Republicans are still arguing over whether the Food and Drug Administration had jurisdiction to regulate compounding pharmacies in the first place. The Democrats insist it did not; the Republicans insist that it did. Good grief.
“It’s been almost a year,” Ben Foutz said. “I just don’t understand why the representatives of this country can’t get together and pass something to protect the public from this happening again. And what people don’t know is that it’s already happened again” — in May, in Tennessee.
Meanwhile the House has passed 40 separate bogus bills to undo the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” The most recent one passed early this month. Every one of those bills is a futile waste of time. And everyone in Washington knows it.
From all of the above, it’s easy to understand the Foutzes’ frustration. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress could drop its partisan bickering just for a few days and enact some legislation to help prevent potentially deadly and debilitating infections like the kind Zac Foutz incurred?
Is that too much to expect from our lawmakers?
For crying out loud, people are still getting sick.
Weather JournalWarmth next 2 days hits icy wall