Dec. 8, 2011 at 3:19 PM ET
Lynsey Lee hoped Yaz would relieve her severe menstrual cramping and pelvic pain, so she began taking the birth control pills when she was only 16. But, instead of getting better, she started experiencing extreme mood swings, nausea and even more pain.
“I got really, really sick,” says Lee, now 19, of White Bluff, Tenn. “I was just constantly throwing up, and it was getting hard to breathe sometimes.”
Then, she started having unbearable chest pains that sent her to the hospital what seemed like every few days. Doctors initially couldn’t figure out what was wrong. “They kept telling me that it was just my body getting used to the medicine,” she says. “Finally, [when I was 17] I just stopped taking it.”
Later that year, after numerous medical exams, doctors diagnosed a blood clot lodged in her left lung. During one emergency room visit, doctors asked Lee what would become a life-changing question for thousands of young women like her: “Have you ever taken Yaz?”
Now, she is among the more than 10,000 American women who have filed class action lawsuits or claims against the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which makes Yaz, a popular birth control pill. Thousands more claims are expected. In documents released Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about conflicting evidence about the risks of taking Yaz and other similar pills, including life-threatening blood clots, and said warning information should appear on labels for doctors and patients.
Thursday, the FDA's panel of outside experts voted 21-5 that current labeling on the medications isn't enough and should be updated with more information on the risks. But that news comes too late for Lee.
“I wish I had known before,” she says. “I never would have taken Yaz.”
A representative from Bayer said the company did not have an immediate response.
The side effects of taking the birth control pill that was touted as having fewer side effects than others have destroyed her life, Lee says.
She had been the captain of the high school dance team, but Lee said after she began developing symptoms, she had to sit on the sidelines because she couldn’t catch her breath. She ended up missing the second half of her senior year in high school, including her senior prom. But, she says, her biggest sacrifice was giving up a full dance team scholarship to Vanderbilt University -- all because of the blood clot that doctors can do little about.
Removing it is too dangerous, they say; Lee takes blood thinners and hopes the clot will dissolve and work its way through her system.
Today, Lee says, she lives with pain and fatigue and isn't strong enough to work. Instead of attending college classes to earn a business degree, Lee makes weekly visits to her doctor for monitoring.
She’s hired Oklahoma City attorney Noble McIntyre, a member of the attorney group The Injury Board, which advocates for patient safety. McIntyre represents 60 Yaz victims and partners with another firm representing 600 Yaz clients.
“She’s missed out on her youth, and she missed out on a scholarship that probably was worth $200,000,” McIntyre says. “We try to give our clients hope that somebody understands what they are going through. We’re trying to communicate with the defendant what these women, through no fault of their own, have experienced. She lost her prom. She lost her freedom, something so valuable to people, because she’s mostly confined to her home.”
Lee says she’s depressed because her compromised health keeps her from living a normal teenager’s life. “I cry a lot,” she says. "It just hurts so much."
She dreams of someday opening a pastry shop and bakes cakes now for her family when she’s up to it. Shehas helped coordinate fundraising efforts for the Ronald McDonald House and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. But she's still not sure what her future may hold.
“I don’t pray to get better because it’s in [God’s] hands,” she says. “I pray for happiness. I pray for others in this world that have it much worse than I do.”
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