"It all began with the Fen-phen diet that I took for about two or three years," says Mary. " I didn't receive a settlement because when the lawsuit began, the plaintiff lawyers had people traveling around the country doing echocardiograms. I went to Springfield, a three hour drive from my town, to have the test. I was told there was such a minute amount of damage that I wouldn't qualify."
But a few years ago, Mary started to have breathing problems. She also experienced severe heart palpitations and chest pains—she believes the valve leakage is getting worse and may lead to PPH/PAH.
"It got so bad that I wound up in ER and that is when I got another echocardiogram," she says. "The palpitations would be ok for an hour and start again. I had a stress test and my blood pressure shot up so much that I thought I was going to pass out." (During a stress test, an echocardiogram is done both before and after your heart is stressed either by having you exercise or by injecting a medicine that makes your heart beat harder and faster. A stress echocardiogram is usually done to find out if you might have decreased blood flow to your heart.)
"I was told to get another test in a year," Mary says. "Why tell me to come back in a year unless they are concerned? I didn't think much about my diagnosis until it occurred to me that fen-phen is responsible for PPH. This could be gradual so now I am wondering why I'm not included in a lawsuit when some people got a settlement years ago?
"When the class action lawsuit was settled, I was OK but a leaky valve seems to be developing at a different pace with different people. Why did I even develop a leaky valve right out of the blue? I have no other problems and there is no heart disease in my family. It is too coincidental. I have four brothers—they have no heart problems and I was the only one in our family to take Fen-phen.
The thought of developing PPH is constantly on my mind and I won't know anything further for another nine months. I was just sent a report that confirmed the leaky valve and so far, I haven't had the opportunity to discuss this with my cardiologist. Obviously I will talk to him if and when I need to.
I think people who opted out of the first settlement were smart—maybe they thought they were going to get sicker. From my understanding, that gives them the chance to sue for a greater amount. I hope somebody is going to help me now that it is getting worse, and this scares me."
PPH is now known as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). It is a rare lung disorder in which the blood pressure in the pulmonary artery rises far above normal levels for no apparent reason.
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Testing for PPH includes an electrocardiogram; echocardiogram (that Mary had); chest x-rays and finally, cardiac catheterization, the latter being the "gold standard" for a PAH/PPH diagnosis.
Can Mary now get involved in a lawsuit against the diet drug companies? Next week, LawyersandSettlements will talk to PAH/PPH lawyer Nick Johnson who will answer this question and more.