LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — In Boston, the two month federal murder trial of the man who owned the pharmacy that in 2012 delivered toxic steroid injections that killed dozens and sickened hundreds is going on in Boston.
In Lowell, 62-year-old Bill Thomas still suffers the effects of the infection he acquired will be going to Boston to represent victims in the courtroom and to see the defendant face-to-face.
It’s been more than four years since the shipment of nearly 18,000 contaminated vials of preservative-free steroids made their way from the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts to pharmacies then physicians across the country.
That included a pain treatment center where Lowell resident Bill Thomas was being treated for back pain he suffered following a motorcycle crash in 1973. He received tainted injections close to his spinal cord.
Pharmacy owner faces federal charges that include racketeering and 25 counts second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
The trial, which began Jan. 9, is expected to last at least two months.
The U.S. Attorney says the steroids were mixed in unsanitary conditions with expired ingredients.
The outbreak of fungal infections linked to the injections killed at least 64 people and made at least 700 people sick, according to the government.
After nearly two decades of combating the back pain from his injuries, Thomas got an injection in September 2012.
“I didn’t feel right even by the time I left the clinic, I just felt sick, I felt off, I felt weak, I felt like there had been some sort of shock to my system,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ doctor could not figure out what was wrong, Thomas’ blood tests were normal but he was plagued with ever-worsening flu-like symptoms, light sensitivity, insomnia and pain.
“It was incredible, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” he said.
It was up to Thomas to figure out what was going on. He heard a TV news story linking meningitis to tainted steroids that were given in Howell. He did more Internet searches and then took himself to the hospital, told them he had meningitis and the hospital confirmed his self diagnosis.
“On that day, I was about the third or fourth patient admitted for that, before I left, there were 50 or 60 patients hospitalized,” Thomas said.
Soon it would become a flood of patients.
Doctors treated Thomas with very toxic antibiotics that can cause seizures and even brain damage and Kidney damage. He was in the hospital a week, a short time compared to some who were there for week or months.
After coming home, Thomas still had to take toxic antibiotics he said damaged his brain. He continued to feel sick for years.
“So two years after the initial injection is when I started to feel better and recover,” Thomas said.
But he continued to have fevers at night until just a few months ago.
“My memory’s shot, I can’t concentrate, I get confused easily, I misunderstand things easily,” he said. “I have so much pain, lingering neurological pain, I can’t walk far.”
The infection has cost him his job and his quality of life.
“I just want to emphasize how worse off some many off most other people are,” he said. “My outcome was great compared to most other people. And that’s important to me for folks to understand. Hundreds and hundreds of people are much worse off than I am.”
In his condition, it will be a hardship for him to travel to Boston and get to the courtroom — so why go?
“To look this guy in the face and to just sort of represent that these are real people whose lives you destroyed,” Thomas said.
He hopes to witness justice.
“I hope he’s convicted and spends the rest of his life in prison,” he said.
Thomas won’t be testifying but he has a lot to say. He says this incident is an indictment of the American medical establishment where there are huge profits to be made by cutting corners and inadequate enforcement to keep it from happening.
Massive profits were made while corners were cut, guidelines were not followed and sanitation ignored, according to investigators.
New England Compounding Center’s bankruptcy included $200 million to pay damages, but after attorney fees and insurance companies take their cut, the victims will not see much money.
“Some people are going to get such a tiny amount of money, it’s a disgrace,” he said. “All in order to make a fast buck.”