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Meningitis Victim Faces Big Bills from Saint Thomas West Hospital

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - More than a year after a routine steroid injection turned into a painful fungal infection that nearly killed her, Marjorie Norwood is still suffering physically and emotionally. She also carries a huge stress: the hospital that houses the clinic where she contracted the infection has billed more than half a million dollars for her treatment.

Norwood argues that she should not have to pay Saint Thomas West Hospital for the months of painful treatment and expensive medicines that fought the infection but did not restore her health.

"They made me sick, and they made me come to their hospital to take care of me. And it was their fault that I was there," she said during a recent interview. "I shouldn't have had to pay a cent, not a dime."

In some ways, Norwood is lucky. The same mold-contaminated medicine that was injected into her back killed 64 people around the country. She was one of 750 who were sickened, and her struggle provides a window into the challenges survivors can face while trying to resume their lives.

The 60-year-old says the disease left her with permanent nerve damage. Despite months of therapy, Norwood sometimes slurs her speech. She has a hard time opening things. She can be clumsy. She can't put her hand behind her head. She sometimes doesn't remember recent conversations with her daughter.

Like many of the victims, Norwood is suing the hospital, the clinic and the New England-based pharmacy that provided the medication. She hopes a jury will award her enough damages to at least pay her medical bills.

Tennessee law caps non-economic damages, such as for pain and suffering, at $750,000. Punitive damages cannot be more than twice the award for economic and emotional damages. Norwood is challenging those caps in her lawsuit. No trial date has yet been set.

Saint Thomas West spokeswoman Rebecca Climer said in an email response to questions that the hospital is following its normal billing practices and that "legal and contractual issues in the Medicare program and in private insurance contracts restrict a provider's ability to deviate" from those practices.

Of the 153 people sickened in Tennessee, one of the hardest hit states during the fall 2012 outbreak, 113 got the tainted steroid injections at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.

The Norwoods have health insurance through her husband's job, but they are not sure how much of the more than $500,000 worth of bills it will cover. Her medications alone cost between $400 and $600 a day at one point, and her treatment is ongoing, so the bills continue to accumulate.
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