The Record - November 5, 2008

Woman blames drug company for contributing to heart attack

Frances Barrick
RECORD STAFF

ZelnormTrudy Metzger used to call the little white pill she took daily her miracle drug.

The 38-year-old Elmira woman took the drug to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Today, she believes the drug, Zelnorm, contributed to the massive heart attack she suffered two years ago at age 36.

"I could have died," Metzger said yesterday.

The mother of five is the representative plaintiff in a $125-million class-action lawsuit against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc., the Quebec-based manufacturer of the drug.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

Silvie Letendra, spokesperson for Novartis, declined to comment.

"Since this matter is now before the courts, Novartis cannot comment," she said in an e-mail.

The company has not filed a statement of defence.

The claim, filed Monday in Toronto Superior Court, alleges that Novartis failed to inform Canadians of the increased risk of cardiovascular disease for patients taking Zelnorm, which was approved for sale in Canada in March 2002.

Five years later, Health Canada suspended the sale of Zelnorm in Canada following a clinical trial, involving 18,600 people, which showed a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking the drug than in patients taking a placebo, the statement of claim said.

Joel Rochon, a Toronto lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the class action, said Metzger was not a candidate for a heart attack.

"She was a healthy, young woman and she was struck down by a heart attack," Rochon said.

In an interview, Metzger said she suffered from severe constipation, a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, since her mid-20s. When her symptoms worsened, her doctor prescribed Zelnorm in June 2006.

The drug immediately helped.

"I used to call it my little miracle tablet," Metzger said. "I was recommending it to everyone. I had no clue of its risks."

Then on Nov. 21, 2006, Metzger said, she woke up feeling ill. She experienced chest discomfort and shortness of breath, which continued throughout the day. That evening her husband, Tim Metzger, drove her to Listowel Memorial Hospital, where she was examined and told she probably had the flu.

Metzger went home, but later that night returned to the hospital after experiencing severe pain in her chest and jaw, she said.

She was admitted to hospital after tests showed she had either suffered a heart attack or had pericarditis, which is inflammation of the fibrous sac surrounding the heart.

On Nov. 24, 2006, she was transferred to St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener, where further tests confirmed she had a heart attack.

Today, Metzger said she has permanent heart damage and has to take heart medications. She tires easily and has less stamina.

On the advice of her doctor, she stopped taking Zelnorm in January 2007 after suffering more chest pains. Metzger said she was shocked to learn in June 2007 that there was a suspected link between Zelnorm and heart disease. She felt betrayed.

Metzger said she is suing because she believes the pharmaceutical company should be held accountable. "I am, fortunately, a survivor . . . I think justice and truth are worth fighting for."