Ed Ward worked as a pharmacist for years. One of the drugs he dispensed more than most others was Vioxx, the modern painkiller used mainly by arthritis sufferers. Ward used Vioxx himself, taking one of the small yellowish pills once a day for his arthritic back.
“It was prescribed as often as aspirin,” recalls Ward, a father of six from Hatfield, Pa., in the Philadelphia suburbs.
It was nearly midnight on Memorial Day 2001. Ward was in his living room watching David Letterman on TV when the pain came, first in his chest, then radiating down his arm. It was a severe, pounding pain. When Ward took a few deep breaths, the pain subsided for a few seconds but then it would return with a vengeance.
“It was like an elephant was stepping on my chest, just a crushing depression,” he recalls.
It didn’t take long for him to figure out what was happening. Despite the fact that Ward was only 54 years old, not overweight, not a smoker and with no history – either himself or in his family – of cardiac problems, he realized that he was having a heart attack, and a serious one at that. After the terrifying episode and several days in the hospital, he learned from his doctors that 25-30 percent of his heart muscle had been damaged.
It was much later, not until the fall of 2003, that Ward began to suspect the true cause of his heart problems. He started to see information at KlineSpecter.com about Vioxx and possible side effects. “I put two and two together, that there was a chance that Vioxx can cause a heart attack,” he says.
Ward went to a lawyer but was told there was no proof that Vioxx caused heart attacks, at least not enough to make a legal case against Merck & Co., its manufacturer. Ward dropped the notion of filing a lawsuit.
But later, on Sept. 30, 2004, the news broke that Merck was pulling Vioxx from the market. The reason: In a large and lengthy study, it turned out that people who used Vioxx (as opposed to those taking a placebo) were at roughly twice the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
“At that point I knew it was definitely from the Vioxx, that it just wasn’t a coincidence I had the heart attack” at the same time he had been taking Vioxx, says Ward. “I had suspected it before because there could be no other reason. I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, I wasn’t overweight, didn’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, no history of cardiac problems ...
“When I heard they pulled it from the market, that gave me more knowledge to say, ‘Yeah, that was it. And for personal gain they (Merck) kept it on the market as long as they could.”
Ward has since hired Kline & Specter to represent him in a lawsuit against Merck. He is upset not only over the hardship he went through – the heart attack, the terrible scare his family experienced, the surgery to implant a heart stent, the months of missed work, the months of therapy – but also the uncertainty that living with a damaged heart has brought to his life.
“You’re living with a time bomb,” Ward says about the increased chance that he could now suffer another heart attack. “It could happen anytime. You get the symptoms, the pain in your arm and chest, but by then it’s too late, you’re having the heart attack.”
“I shouldn’t have had the attack and there’s permanent damage to the heart muscle and it could affect your longevity,” says Ward, noting he was told his stent would last only about five to seven years, at which point he will need a replacement or he could suffer another heart attack.
Ward has been able to return to his job as a pharmacist but he takes drugs now to reduce his cholesterol. And he lives with the fear that his heart could fail again and he could die any day.
The irony that this could happen to a pharmacist, someone who studies literature on prescription drugs, is not lost on Ward. “That’s the whole thing, if you read all the package literature there was no caution for cardiac problems,” he says. “If the information had been out there, then doctors wouldn’t have prescribed it.”
And Ed Ward wouldn’t have to think about the heart attack he had and a possible recurrence. “It’s always in the back of my mind,” he says, “Can I have another one?”
Kline & Specter represented hundreds of people like Ed Ward who suffered serious side effects after taking Vioxx.