"I started taking fen phen in 1993 until about 1996," says Alicia. "I got a prescription and took it every day - I was young and wanted to be thinner than I already was. When you are young, 135 lbs and 5' 4" is not thin. I wanted to get down to 120 lbs. So I kept taking fen phen. When I checked back on my medical records, I had taken fen phen for about 120 consecutive days and I was also prescribed fen phen through the Bakersfield weight control clinic.
Some people are so vain in their 30s and I didn't think twice about my health. This drug wasn't outlawed back in those days - instead I thought it was good for you. I had no idea that there could be any side effects and I would be suffering 14 years later. I am now 53 years old and I have been diagnosed with Mitral valve regurgitation."
Mitral valve regurgitation, also known as mitral regurgitation, is a condition in which the mitral valve doesn't close tightly, which allows blood to flow backward in your heart. When the mitral valve doesn't function properly, blood can't move through your heart or to the rest of your body as efficiently. Mitral valve regurgitation is also called mitral insufficiency, or incompetence. The condition can leave you fatigued and short of breath. Sometimes heart surgery is required to repair or replace the valve. If it isn't checked, severe mitral valve regurgitation can lead to congestive heart failure or serious heart rhythm irregularities (arrhythmias).
In Alicia's case, her symptoms are getting worse. "Every now and then my heart pumps really fast - it gets up to 150 over 120 and I feel like I am going to pass out," she says. "Lately I have been taking anxiety pills because I don't know what is going to happen to me. My blood pressure gets so high I think I am going to have a heart attack." Alire has been referred to yet another cardiologist and will soon have a heart CAT Scan to determine the extent of damage. She has extremely high blood pressure and is taking medication."
"My health insurance is paying for my medical problems but no amount of money can reimburse me for my health - I don't want to get a million dollars when I am on my death bed. Last year the doctor tested me (as requested by Kaiser, my insurer). I was on a heart monitor for 24 hours and they found out that my heart is skipping beats. I'm really scared because I have no idea what is going on - my blood pressure keeps going up and then dropping; it either beats really fast or really slow."
As part of the original settlement, the makers of Fen Phen sent Alicia to their own cardiologist and she had an EKG: Diagnosis - mild.
Alicia was smart - she got a second opinion. She asked her own doctor to diagnose and had another EKG. Diagnosis: moderate.
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I know there is a statute of limitations and I hope to find out exactly what is wrong with me. When I go to the dentist I have to take high doses of antibiotics - recommended if you took fen phen. All dentists request that because any infection can affect your heart.
I don't think my payment was fair because my health is getting progressively worse as I get older. It affects my work - I am self-employed as a hairdresser and when you get sick, you just don't feel like being around people. My heart is pounding so fast sometimes that I can't stand up to finish a client's hair. But I get restless - I want to do something but I can't. That's frustrating.