LOUISVILLE (AP) - An autopsy confirmed that a Kentucky judge's death was connected to tainted steroid shots he received weeks earlier in Tennessee to treat neck and back pain, a forensic pathologist said Wednesday.
The autopsy was done about a month after the death of 78-year-old Eddie C. Lovelace, a longtime circuit court judge in southern Kentucky.
Results showed the injections given Lovelace contained a fungus that set off a series of health problems ultimately leading to his Sept. 17 death, said George R. Nichols II, a consulting forensic pathologist. He performed the autopsy at the Lovelace family's request.
"The organism was introduced by an injection of a tainted pharmaceutical substance. That's how it all happened," Nichols, a former chief medical examiner in Kentucky, said in a phone interview.
The fungus contained in the seemingly routine shots caused a blood vessel infection, which in turn caused the blockage of blood at the base of Lovelace's brain, Nichols said. That resulted in a stroke and the judge's eventual death, he said.
Lovelace died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Tom Carroll, a lawyer for the Lovelace family, has said the judge received the steroid injections on July 27, Aug. 17 and Aug. 31 at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville.
A Saint Thomas spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Wednesday. The center received a shipment of the steroid, blamed for a fungal meningitis outbreak that spread to 19 states.
Tainted injections like the ones Lovelace received are blamed for 28 deaths and 363 illnesses nationwide in a fungal meningitis outbreak.
The injections were prepared by the New England Compounding Center, a Massachusetts specialty pharmacy. NECC was shut down in the wake of the outbreak. Compounding pharmacies such as NECC custom mix solutions in doses or forms generally not commercially available.
Lovelace did not die from fungal meningitis, Nichols said. But the fungus injected into Lovelace's body is the same fungus responsible for the meningitis outbreak, he said.
"Not everybody who's got this has died from meningitis," he said. "Some of them have died from a stroke. And the stroke is because of something that has been introduced that blocks the passage of blood through the blood vessels."
Fungal meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
Nichols said he sent a copy of his autopsy report to Tennessee health officials.
Lovelace's family requested the autopsy in hopes of clearing up questions about his death.
"Basically it confirmed what we thought all along," Lovelace's son, Chris, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The judge from Albany, Ky., walked three miles a day and kept up a busy court schedule until his final illness. He had talked about going into law practice with his granddaughter after his term on the bench expired in two years, Carroll had said.
Chris Lovelace said the family received the autopsy results earlier this week, two hours before his daughter gave birth to a girl - a great-granddaughter of Eddie Lovelace.
"It was a very bittersweet moment to finally know what actually did happen," he said of the autopsy. "And then two hours later we're celebrating the birth of a grandchild, and Dad's not there."