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.
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