AP: Meningitis Voted Biggest Tennessee Story Of 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - First there was the meningitis patient who didn't respond to antibiotics. Then a gray-green growth in a Petri dish - a fungus that should not have been there.
Otherwise healthy patients are not supposed to develop fungal meningitis, a rare form of the disease usually found in people with severely compromised immune systems.
Vanderbilt's Dr. April Pettit began asking questions. When she found the patient had recently received a steroid injection for back pain, she knew the problem could be bigger than just the isolated case.
Pettit emailed epidemiologists at the state Health Department who immediately began an investigation.
Soon, the nation learned that steroid injections given to thousands of Americans were contaminated with mold — and the consequences were deadly.
Tennessee has seen 14 deaths from fungal meningitis since the outbreak began in September. Across the nation, another 25 have perished. Many more have been sickened, and health officials still are unable to tell those who got the contaminated medication when they will be out of danger.
But things could have been much worse.
If Pettit had not realized the potential scope of the problem or if state health officials had not acted quickly, many more could have died before the outbreak was identified and traced to its source.
The ongoing story of the outbreak and its effect on Tennessee was voted the state's No. 1 news story of 2012 in voting by The Associated Press staff, AP member newspapers and broadcast subscribers.
Voted No. 2 was the April retirement of famed University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt after announcing last year that she had early onset dementia.
Summitt led Tennessee to eight national titles in her 38-year tenure. Her 1,098 career victories make her the winningest Division I college basketball coach in history for either men or women.
Appreciation for her accomplishment extended all the way to the White House, where President Barack Obama named her a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. During the awards ceremony in May, Obama said Summitt had helped pave the way for his two daughters.
"They're standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong," he said.
In November came a historic Election Day, with Tennessee Republicans winning a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, the No. 3 story of 2012.
Having a supermajority means Republicans can pass legislation without needing a single vote from Democrats. But the elation of Republican leaders was tempered by a realization that getting everyone to move in the same direction might be difficult at times.
"Does it mean we'll get everything we want? I don't necessarily assume that," Gov. Bill Haslam said.
The fourth biggest story was really multiple stories about the election changes that made voting interesting this year, including redistricting, mandatory photo identification and the battle to allow Memphis library cards to serve as voter ID.
Story No. 5 was the revelation that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais had an affair with a patient and urged her to get an abortion, despite having a political platform that includes opposition to abortion.
The incumbent Republican won re-election anyway, but in court, Democrats won the right to view DesJarlais' divorce file. That included admission of other affairs with patients and the acknowledgment that his ex-wife had gotten two abortions while they were married.
Voters can expect to hear more about that in 2014. Several Republicans have expressed interest in challenging DesJarlais for the 4th District seat.
A triple digit heat wave in June that shattered records tied for the No. 6 spot with the August opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The mosque faced a two-year, uphill battle as opponents first tried to prevent it from being built and then tried to keep it from opening. In the end, it took the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts for members to get an occupancy permit.
Mosque member Matt Miller, who attended the first worship service in the new building in August, said he thought the opposition would die down once people "see that there are no underground tunnels. We're not here to take over the world. We just don't want to worship in a shoebox anymore."
Voted No. 8 was the story of two young sisters from Whiteville who were rescued in May after being kidnapped by a family friend who killed their mother and older sister. Kidnapper Adam Mayes took his own life as authorities closed in on him in the northern Mississippi woods.
Mayes' wife and mother are accused of helping with the crimes. They told authorities that Mayes plotted the abduction for a year because he was infatuated with one of the sisters.
Back at UT, football coach Derek Dooley was let go after posting Tennessee's longest run of consecutive losing seasons in over a century. The coup de grace was a 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 17. Dooley was fired the following day. The story was voted No. 9 for the year.
And in the No. 10 slot was another tie.
In May, the Tennessee walking horse industry was rocked with scandal by an undercover video of trainers applying caustic chemicals to the legs of horses and then beating the horses to make them stand.
Well-known trainer Jackie McConnell and several stable hands pleaded guilty to violating the Horse Protection Act.
In June, the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention tried to widen its appeal during its annual meeting — electing an African-American as president for the first time in its 167-year history and adopting an optional alternative name, Great Commission Baptists.
In nominating the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. for the denomination's top post, Pastor David Crosby said Luter was a "fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor" who "would likely be a candidate for sainthood if he were Catholic."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)