As it turned out, Levaquin caused more than an aching lower leg. Because the drug caused Sara to become practically immobile, her respiratory problems became worse and it even cost her relationship with her fiancé...
"At first I didn't think much of the pain in my leg because my whole body ached from the fever I had," said Sara, "but once the fever broke I still had severe pain in my feet and lower calves. Ironically I had an appointment set up with my foot surgeon, Dr. Adamo, who did my bunion surgery last year.
"I continued on the Levaquin and finished it Thursday. On Friday I could barely walk. As I stepped down from my apartment, I could see, feel, and hear a pop in the back of my leg and blinding pain, like I never felt before. 'Sara, what have you been doing?' Dr. Adamo asked. As soon as I mentioned Levaquin he said, 'Didn't you read the insert?'
"He told me that I have severe bilateral Achilles tendonitis, Levaquin is to blame, and health experts are trying to get this drug off the market. I couldn't believe it! I was absolutely furious. I'm a nurse and the last dose I took, I got hot and flushed; my heart rate went up and I knew then that I was having an allergic reaction to this drug. But causing this, the inability to walk? A lot of reactions can occur from antibiotics, but I'd never heard of this.
"Dr. Adamo told me to discontinue any kind of physical activity, put my feet up, and wrap them in ice or heat, whatever felt better. He gave me a prescription for painkillers and come back for a follow-up in a few weeks or sooner if I was getting worse.
"I didn't make it back to his office. Instead I wound up in hospital due to my lungs. Dr. Adamo ordered an MRI, which showed a complete tear on my right leg tendon. Then I had an MRI on my other leg and that showed a partial tear of the tendon. It also showed a hole in the heel itself. They gave me prednisone and said my respiratory problem was not life-threatening but I won't be able to walk. I wore a cam-walker, a very rigid boot from tips of my toes to below the knee, to stabilize the foot and decrease some of the pain. My left foot was ace-bandaged.
"They wanted to operate on the torn tendon but were afraid the surgery could also take my life because of my lungs. And I also had a prior blood clot in that leg. So they prepped me for two weeks with blood thinners and antibiotics. Finally I had the surgery.
"Prior to surgery, I was taught how to walk with this 5-lb boot. I'm a small person and it was hard; basically you have to support your own weight on the handles of a walker and hop on the opposite side. But my other foot wasn't that good either. They continued to work with me in occupational therapy and rehab—three hours a day pre and prior surgery. For eight weeks, just getting myself to the bathroom was impossible—all because of Levaquin.
"I got out of hospital last November and had the cast removed. Dr. Adamo put me back in the cam-boot and told me that I could put 80 percent of my weight on it (although that's hard to figure out). I stayed out of hospital for seven weeks but got another respiratory infection because I was basically sofa-bound—back in hospital.
"They said I didn't have problems earlier with my lungs because I was moving around. When anyone lies around a lot, pneumonia often happens. I've had pneumonia three times since this happened due to immobility.
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"And it gets worse. I have a nasty scar and bruising that looks like it will never go away; constant swelling in both feet from these injuries. And this cost me a relationship—I was engaged and my fiancé said it was too much, having porta-potties and everything else in a one-bedroom apartment. I moved in with my brother.
"'You should go after the makers of Levaquin because you don't know the future,' my friends tell me. I'm going to take their advice."