"I started taking Effexor a few months before I was pregnant and continued throughout my pregnancy," says Trudy Hanson (not her real name pending a lawsuit). Her doctor said it was safe as long as she stopped taking it a few weeks before her due date so the baby wouldn't go through withdrawals.
She had a normal pregnancy but went into pre-term labor at 28 weeks. At that time, an ultrasound found that she had too much amniotic fluid - a sign of a birth defect that could be anything from Down's syndrome to club feet; there is no way to tell. "As a precaution I would have a pediatrician on-site when I gave birth," says Hanson. But that wasn't much reassurance, given the brevity of this news.
"I was induced (never went into labor) and Michael was born full-term on January 22, 2006. He looked normal for a minute or two but then he turned purple and the nurses literally ran him into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The doctors told me they had never seen a baby this sick and that he would have to be flown to Utah Primary Children's Hospital. We were in Idaho. I felt like this was Doomsday.
The cardiologists at Children's in Utah told the doctors in Idaho that my son would have to be in their OR in less than 55 minutes. It took almost two and-a-half hours to get him there due to 'pilot problems.' There wasn't any room on the plane for me - four nurses and two medical attendants accompanied Michael - so my family bundled me into the car and we drove 400 miles to the hospital. I was still in my hospital gown, my epidural was still on board and I couldn't move my legs. I just thank the Lord we got there in record time.
The intensive care staff met me with a wheelchair and told me that Michael was in OR. They recommended that I be admitted to their local hospital as they weren't equipped to look after me. Instead, I sat with my family in a small room with a cot, adjacent to their IC waiting room, and waited, and waited. Surgery started at 9.30 p.m. and ended at 6.30 a.m. the next morning - as you can imagine, it was the longest night of my life.
Every hour we had an update from the OR staff. We knew he might not make it; when he was first born, one surgeon at Children's said on the phone that he had a 90 percent chance of making it as long as we could get Michael there alive. He called me again on my cell phone - about one hour after we had been driving - and said they had received my son but he was worse off than they anticipated and he only had a 10 percent chance of surviving, even with the top two cardiothorasic surgeons at this hospital.
6.30 am: Michael was out of OR. The surgeon told me they tried to take Michael off the Heart Lung Bypass Machine but his heart was so damaged he had to stay on it. 'This is your moral choice,' he told me. 'Some parents don't wish to put their baby back on the machine but you can also try for a few days and give his body time to rest - or not.' The Bypass machine was breathing for him and pumping his blood; it was doing everything for him. We decided to give him five days on the machine. They told me that after seven days they would have to take him off, no matter what, and see if he will live. They also told me that if Michael made it through these next seven days it would be a miracle in itself because he was on so many blood thinners and could easily have a brain bleed.
He had two brain bleeds in that week. I was living in the waiting room and saw Michael for about five minutes every hour, just to touch him, hold his hand...
Day 4: They tried to take him off the Bypass Machine. This is about a one-hour procedure and they were almost there but his little heart ripped and there was blood everywhere...he was put back on the machine.
Day 7: By the hair of our teeth, this was our deadline. They tried again, this time successfully. This was the longest week of my entire life.
It has been a long year. Michael has had two open-heart surgeries, several heart catheterizations, many EKGs and sees the pediatrician at least twice a week.
This is the 14th time he has been hospitalized, mainly due to respiratory problems although this time he just had another heart catheterization. They also did an angioplasty on his pulmonary artery -- he has many heart and lung issues. Right now I'm holding him and we will be staying here tonight for observation. The doctor just said we have to come back in a few more months and go through this procedure again. Michael will never be out of the woods; we are all surprised he has made it this far and he has a long road ahead.
READ MORE SSRI Birth Defect LEGAL NEWS
I've thought a lot about Effexor and SSRIs in general. I often talk with other women in the waiting room and we ask each other if we ever blame ourselves. One woman wondered if it was the meds she took. When I told her that I had taken Effexor she told me that this was the drug she took when pregnant. Her baby also has congenital heart defects.
After reading countless studies about SSRIs, I can't help but blame myself. I've even talked to a few people who said the drug makers knew of these side effects. It makes me sick thinking about it; thinking that my little boy has spent most of his life in hospital.