HEALTH -- November 14, 2012 at 3:41 PM ET
Families Mourn Sudden Loss of Loved Ones From Meningitis Deaths
Diana (right) dancing with her husband Wayne in Bermuda in 1985.
They all said the same thing. There was just something about Diana Reed that made her unforgettable.
And although the 56-year-old Brentwood, Tenn., woman died suddenly from fungal meningitis on Oct. 3, she lives on through those who knew her.
I got to know Diana by sitting on her screened in back porch one recent afternoon outside of Nashville and listening to a group of her friends tell the stories. Each one of them had an idea of what that "something" about Diana was.
For Marlene Butler, a friend of Diana's for more than 25 years, it was the way Diana never met a stranger. "She always asked me about my kids," Butler said with tears creeping up in her eyes. And whenever Diana left you she always said breathlessly, "Love ya, bye."
Butler said Diana had a great big personality and a big "belly laugh" to go with it. "You always knew when she came into the room," Butler recalled. "And you knew when she left because she just filled up the space."
For Mandy Stickel, Diana was her second mother. Young Mandy is the daughter of Diana's husband's college roommate. "I knew her first as a kid and my dad's friend," Stickel said. "But through the years, Diana and I became close close personal friends. I could talk to her about anything."
Pat Ward was Diana's best friend. "I talked to her every day," Ward said. "I will still find myself picking up the phone to call her. She left a message on my phone that I still keep there and I'll listen to it sometimes."
Ward said there was absolutely nothing she and Diana had not talked about: children, family, politics, religion. Yes, sex. And pain.
Diana Reed knew a thing or two about pain.
She was married to 58-year-old Wayne Reed for almost 40 years. Wayne was diagnosed 27 years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. And in all those years, Diana had been his primary caregiver. His disease is pretty advanced now and he needs 24-hour-a-day care. So Wayne's loss has been more profound because of the struggles they shared with this ugly, incurable disease.
But they also shared a legacy of togetherness. "We would read together, do jigsaw puzzles together, watch TV together," he said. And when I asked him what he misses the most about her, he said without missing a beat, "It was her smile. It was contagious. It lit up the room. You couldn't help but smile back, too".
"I still think she'll walk through that door," Wayne said. "We were together for 40 years."
Letting go is hard. And it must be especially hard when someone you love dies suddenly, as Diana did. She had been having a lot of neck pain a few months back. She had just lost her job and wanted to use her health insurance while she still had some left to get treatment. So she went to a local clinic in Nashville where she received three epidural injections for pain.
What Diana did not know and could never have predicted was that the medication she was injected with was contaminated with a nasty black fungus that brought on fungal meningitis and killed her in a matter of days.
Ward said it was "a helpless feeling" sitting at her hospital bedside, watching her get steadily worse -- first losing focus then being unable to speak clearly and finally slipping into a coma from which she never recovered.
As I stood on the porch and listened to Diana's friends talk about her, I was struck with how raw they all feel now, just a month-and-a-half after her death.
But they also find hope and renewal in telling those Diana stories over and over.
Forty-year-old David Rubio is the youth minister at Wayne and Diana's church in Brentwood. He now joins hundreds of other volunteers from the church to come to Wayne's house every day to help care for him.
The day I was there, Rubio's official job was to take Sherman, the family dog, for a long walk. Even Sherman seemed to know Diana is gone. He wandered from person to person on that back porch looking up at everyone as if to say, "when is she coming back?"
Rubio remembers that Diana loved "Dancing with the Stars." And he swears Diana is the only person he ever met who got "Strictly Ballroom." It was a movie about a Latin dancing competition that was popular in the 1990s.
The heroine of the story was a woman who overcame all odds and won a national ballroom dancing competition.
The movie's heroine lived by the mantra: "A life lived without fear is a life half lived."
Diana Reed didn't do anything halfway. She certainly didn't live her life in fear.
And her tragic death serves as a reminder that every one of the people who have been made sick or died from the tainted steroid injections, in their own way, was somebody special.
For their families and friends, there was "something" about each of them -- just like Diana.
The family has established a fund in Diana's memory. Those interested in contributing can write to the Diana Reed Fund, 409 Franklin Rd., Brentwood, TN 37027.