Family Claims Birth Control Pill Killed College Student
By Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There are a growing number of lawsuits across the country from women claiming to have been harmed by the birth control drug, Yaz.
The latest involves the death of a local college student who had been taking YAZ for six months.
"She was all about laughing and having fun," said Traci Mayfield of her 20-old-daugher Leah. "We were more than mother/daughter, we were best friends."
Leah and her mom spoke every day even though Leah was hours away attending college at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
"She blossomed into a beautiful young lady up there. You can just see the transformation in pictures," said Mayfield.
By Leah's junior year she was a leader in her sorority, on the Dean's list and on her way to becoming a nurse.
"They would call her mama Leah, just as a joke. If anybody was sick, if anybody wasn't feeling good - they would call Leah," said Mayfield.
Suddenly last January, it was Leah who needed help. Her roommate called 911 for an ambulance after Leah passed out in the shower.
"Is she awake now?" asked the 911 operator.
"She's awake now. She's breathing really hard and very very pale, like very pale," said Leah's roommate.
The roommate then called Leah's mom and put Leah on the phone.
"Leah told me that she was scared, and that she was tingling all over. I told her it was going to be okay, that me and daddy was coming," said Mayfield.
Leah's mom and dad did not make it in time. Leah died less than an hour later after the call.
"You go in the room and there's your child, your baby girl lying on the stretcher," said Mayfield as she wiped away tears.
Doctors said Leah died because of a blood clot in her lung. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.
"How does this happen to a healthy 20 year old young lady?" asked Leah's mom.
The Mayfields never expected the answer they received. An emergency room doctor said the birth control pill Leah started taking six months before, called YAZ, could have caused the blood clot.
Flashy ads helped make YAZ the most popular birth control pill in the U.S.
The ads claimed YAZ helped cure acne and PMS. In 2008, the Federal Food and Drug Administration said Bayer Pharmaceuticals overstated the drugs effectiveness and required the company to run corrective ads.
"You may have seen some YAZ commercials that were not clear. The FDA wants us to correct a few points in those ads," said a spokeswoman in a YAZ commercial.
The FDA also found Bayer understated the risks associated with the new drug, risks that because of a unique progestin include blood clots and heart failure.
Attorney Beth Alexander is suing Bayer on behalf of Leah's parents. The lawsuit claims "hundreds of young women have suffered serious or fatal injuries as a result of taking this widely prescribed medication."
"I think that they were trying to promote the drug as being better than other birth control pills when it in fact is more dangerous than other birth control pills," said Alexander.
The lawsuit claims "the FDA received reports of more than 50 deaths" where those who died were users of YAZ. It said Bayer "ignored the increased risks of the drug."
Bayer said it cannot comment on the lawsuit, but insists its "oral contraceptives have been and continue to be studied worldwide and are safe if used properly."
"I'm not surprised at all this drug is still on the market," said Alexander. "It's a very lucrative drug for Bayer."
She said it made $600 million the year Leah died.
"She didn't have to die. She didn't have to die because of a pill," said Mayfield.
Mayfield does not want her daughter to have died in vain. She's warning others about the drug.