I lost my wife in early 2004, just months before Merck & Co accepted responsibility, but not liability, for the pain medication Vioxx and what it was doing to people.
In the late 90’s, my wife and I were driving home from visiting our daughter when we were in an accident. I only got cuts and bruises, but her knee was badly injured and she ended up needing two surgeries and more than a year a physical therapy to be able to walk any real distance again. By 2003 or so, arthritis had settled in her knee and she wasn’t able to do all the things she loved, like gardening, dancing, and playing with our six grandchildren. Her physician prescribed Vioxx to help with the chronic pain, and man did that stuff work. It wasn’t very long before she started getting active again.
One day, at the start of spring, Lynda was up early, eager to get her garden flipped and ready for flowers. We had coffee together as she resorted her seed packets planning where everything was going. I loved watching her plan her garden. It was such serious business. She slipped on her shoes, put on her work jacket, and headed out the back door.
I read the paper while I finished my breakfast, then went to see if she needed my help. I found her on the ground at the edge of the garden, not moving. I was so scared and started running around like a nut, hollering so loud my neighbors called 911. Thank goodness. When the EMTs arrived, they said there was nothing they could do. It appeared she died quickly of a heart attack. My girl of 45 years was gone.
By the time Merck pulled Vioxx from the market, an article in Forbes said 60 thousand people had died from Vioxx, just like Lynda. I remember the article said Vioxx killed as many people as Vietnam. That really hit me hard. How could a pill cause that much death and destruction? But it did.
My attorney had been handling our families matters for decades, so as soon as I got a grip on my grief, I went to talk to him. We discussed suing Merck and knew we had a solid case. My wife and I had complete health checkups regularly and there was nothing wrong with her heart. Heck she didn’t even have high cholesterol and no family history of heart attack. I talked to him about banding together with other husbands and wives who lost their spouses because of this drug because grief can really get in the way of trying to get things done. I figured all of us could help each other make sure all we were covering all the bases. You know, really protest against this drug being available when it was deadly, and making as much noise as possible about the FDA approval process and the possibility of greased palms.
In 2007, Merck agreed to settle about 27,000 lawsuits filed on behalf of 47,000 of us. The company agreed to pay $4.8 billion in the settlement. All of cases involved a family member who died after taking Vioxx or who were injured by the drug. We were able to get the nations top attorneys to represent us, which is very important, because they helped us make sure the pubic and the government heard what we had to say.
We made change. We planted a seed and helped it grow into this giant mass tort that couldn’t be ignored. One that made a difference. Lynda would be proud of me. I know she would.