Jennifer says she only took lisinopril for six weeks—when her urine changed color. "My doctor ran all kinds of tests but everything came back negative," she says. "He told me that I have hepatitis A and to just go home and rest. My husband asked him if I should see a gastroenterologist but he didn't think it was necessary. I thought the lisinopril could be connected in some way because it was the only thing that had changed—I wasn't taking any other meds and before this happened I was very healthy.
"My doctor said, 'No way it could be lisinopril; if you had an allergic reaction it would have happened within the first two weeks and not six weeks after taking this med.' I went home crying and distraught—it was a medical mystery."
Instead of getting better as her doctor said, Jennifer got worse. She wasn't able to raise her head or stand up straight—and she couldn't remember her husband Chris's name.
A worsening of brain function occurs when the liver is no longer able to remove toxic substances in the blood. (Jennifer adds that "after the transplant and after I came to my senses, one of my doctors said that I went into ICU psychosis and I stayed up for 4 days straight—I was a bit crazy, and I was too scared to sleep.")
"Chris drove me to ER at Fort Walton Medical Center but 12 hours later in ICU, I was flown to Ochsner Medical Center to wait for a liver transplant," says Jennifer.
By the time Jennifer got to Ochsner, her MELD score was rated 38—she was gravely ill. Incredibly, she only had to wait 15 hours for a liver transplant.
"Chris was devastated," Jennifer says, "and at the same time he was struggling to get sitters for our children (young twins and 5-year-old daughter Emma). After the transplant—when I was well enough, Emma was able to come to the hospital and spend weekends with me. I was in hospital for 12 days and then I stayed at an apartment for a month so I could get lab work done."
Jennifer didn't call an attorney until December 2009 (she had the transplant October 21) because she was "so overwhelmed and baffled" by what happened to her. Finally, a family friend spoke with an attorney…
"It took me a long time to realize that I am really mad at these [lisinopril makers], Jennifer says, crying. "I am really mad that this company is still making lisinopril and that they may destroy the lives of so many others. I would love to see this drug taken off the market. I have talked to people who have been on it for 20 years and they never had any side effects. I don't know if companies are trying to make this drug better by making a new formula or if I got a bad batch? It seems to me that they are trying to make lisinopril better and in the process it is killing people. I would be dead if not for that liver transplant and my husband would be raising three children alone…
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"Mentally, however, I am very disturbed. I wake up every day thinking this is how it is going to be for the rest of my life and I will always be known as 'the woman who had the liver transplant.' On the other hand I know I am blessed and I thank god and the organ donor every day that I had another chance.
"As for the doctor who diagnosed me with Hepatitis A, I saw him right after I had the transplant—I went into his office and got my medical records before I got a lawyer. He never even apologized for not seeing the problem. I think a medical malpractice suit is also in the works.