I Wanted to Lose Weight, Not My Life

I think I was the heaviest kid in school, pretty much from kindergarten to graduation. It didn’t really matter what I did to lose weight, I don’t think I ever dropped more than three or four pounds. I am not going to say that I didn’t like myself or my life, because that’s not true. I was active, healthy, pretty, fun, and fat.

Before graduating from college, I decided I was really going to make a big change and work harder than ever to lose 50 pounds. I was walking to all my classes and walking the track at the stadium every morning and evening. I completely changed what I ate, and gave up soda and sugary drinks, processed foods, and most white foods like potatoes and bread.

After 6 months, I had lost 12 pounds. Not nearly as much I had wanted to lose. My doctor said there was a diet pill that was helping people like me lose weight. He prescribed a drug called Fen-Phen and I started taking it the next day. For the first time in my life, the weight was coming off. I was doing so good, that my younger sister got a prescription and started dieting too.

I don’t think I was on the drug for three months before my doctor told me that my heart valve was damaged and not working right. A few months later, the FDA said that studies had shown that fen-phen use could cause heart valve damage and lung damage and pulled the pill off the market.

As soon as I heard what the FDA did, I was so mad. I just wanted to lose weight and look good and instead I ended up with heart problems. I asked my doctor why on Earth he would put me on a pill that would hurt me, and he said he had no idea the drug could do this. I asked my pharmacist if she knew of anyone else getting heart damage from the pills, and she said yes and that I should talk to my attorney because it seemed lots of people were being hurt by the pill.

My attorney said we should file a lawsuit against the drug maker American Home Products, but I wanted to do more. A mass tort action had been established in Philadelphia and I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t think that if I filed an individual lawsuit that I would really be heard. I wanted the drug maker to hear my words, see what they had done to me and thousands of others, and I wanted them to pay. I figured if all of us who were hurt by the drug stood together, we would get noticed and maybe really get something done. That together we would be strong enough, loud enough to make a difference.

Well, it worked. Thousands of us filed product liability lawsuits in a mass tort and American Home Products quickly agreed to settle all the cases at once for close to $4 billion. We won. Fen-Phen is gone and won’t hurt anyone ever again and the maker learned a very costly, very important lesson about hurting people.

When It Comes to Dangerous Drugs, There’s Power in Numbers

Many years ago I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I beat it, but since then, I only eat fresh, whole foods, drink purified water, try to avoid as many chemicals as possible and use only safe things, like vinegar to clean my home. Of course I avoid tobacco and don’t take any medicines unless its necessary.  

Unfortunately, diabetes runs in my family, and despite my healthy lifestyle, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. My doctor put me on a medication called Actos and I was able to control my blood sugar levels very well for a long time.

Then, the bladder cancer came back. I was devastated. After everything, here I was again, staying in hospitals, being poked, prodded, punctured, operated on, beamed with radiation, and infused with chemotherapy drugs. I was trying to stay positive, but failing. I was tired.

It was during one of my treatments that a friend told me that the FDA issued a warning saying that Actos could cause bladder cancer and that it shouldn’t be taken by people who have or have had bladder cancer.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

My doctor said she never would have prescribed the drug if she had known about the risk, and I certainly never would have taken it if I had any idea it could cause the cancer to come back. I did some research and found out that other countries had stopped using the drug because of the risk of bladder cancer, but the drug maker didn’t warn people in the U.S.

I talked to my attorney about suing the maker of Actos, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, when I saw online that lots of other people thought their bladder cancer might be connected to the medicine. Though we talked about filing an individual lawsuit, I thought it would be more powerful if all of us who developed bladder cancer would join together and present this big united front that said “you hurt us and we aren’t going to take it.”

Drug injury lawsuits can take a long time to get through the court system, but unlike an individual suit, when you form a mass tort, it just keeps growing as more people connect the dots.

By 2015, over ten thousand people had joined the mass tort, which is an incredibly powerful number of people, and at that point, Takeda decided it would be easier to just settle. This ended up being one of the biggest drug settlements in history, with the company agreeing to pay $2.4 billion to settle more than 90 percent of the cases filed against it.