St. Joseph Mercy fights fungal infections from tainted New England Compounding Center shots

(WXYZ) - It's been devastating and a challenge for health officials who have never seen anything like this. Michigan has been hardest hit by this outbreak and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor has worked proactively to diagnose and treat people who received those contaminated shots.

Rhonda Hall was once an active mother of five and grandma of four. She barely recognizes her life anymore.

"I'm lucky if I can get out of bed," said Hall.

The culprit? Those tainted shot made by the New England Compounding Pharmacy in Massachusetts. The fungal outbreak evolved from meningitis and 13 deaths to infections at the site of the injections.

Rhonda and some 200 other are now battling those infections. Over the last five months, Rhonda has spent some 40 days at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.

"They've seen fungus in people but they've never seen it injected into people," explained Hall of her condition. "In this type of infections there's a lot of unknowns," she went on to say.

St. Joe's has treated the majority of the Michigan patients because 643 people were identified as receiving the shots from a nearby pain clinic in Brighton.

Knowing there were likely patients who had infections but weren't showing any symptoms yet, the hospital contacted those individuals and brought them in to get an MRI.

A mobile MRI unit was even brought in to help meet the need.

"Of that group, we actually found about a fifth of those patients were actually found to have infection," said Dr. Anurag Malani. He says many of those patients then had surgery and began grueling anti-fungal treatments.

"They put me on some ampo,well they call it ampoterrible," said Hall. "It's yellow, it's real think. It just makes you nauseous."

At the height of the outbreak, St. Joe's had 79 fungal patients in the hospital; the equivalent of two full units. They've worked closely with the CDC and state health department to determine the best treatment plan and other states have followed their lead.

"Unlike many other things in medicine -- where there is actually a textbook answer and you can go to a computer to do a literature search and find an answer to how to approach a medical problem -- we're dealing with a lot of uncertainty," said Dr. Malani.

And perhaps that's the greatest pain of all for Rhonda who says the worst part of this whole ordeal is "Thinking that I won't be here to see my daughters get married and have kids, to see my grandkids grow up."

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