Suit claims pharmacy error caused miscarriage

Sunday, October 21, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- When Chanda Givens began feeling sick and throwing up about a month into her pregnancy, she wrote it off as morning sickness.

It was only after the suburban St. Louis woman miscarried a month later that she learned the pills that she thought were prenatal vitamins were actually a potent chemotherapy drug that killed her unborn child, according to a lawsuit against Walgreen Co., whose pharmacy allegedly dispensed the wrong medicine.

The wrongful death and medical malpractice suit filed last week in federal court by Givens, 29, and her husband, Courtenay, of St. Charles County, seeks unspecified damages.

It claims the Deerfield, Ill.-based company failed to properly supervise pharmacy personnel who dispensed the medicine, failed to verify the prescription with Givens' doctor, and failed to follow appropriate protocol.

'An emotional toll'

"I think it has really taken an emotional toll on Chanda especially," Dawn Mefford, the couple's attorney, said Friday. "She describes it as a nightmare."

Mefford said Givens became pregnant in February. On March 6, she went to an O'Fallon, Mo., Walgreens to fill a prescription for Materna, a prenatal vitamin.

Instead, Mefford said, Givens was given Matulane, a chemotherapy drug for treatment of Hodgkin's disease. The lawsuit states that drug is designed to interfere with cell growth and DNA development.

Nausea and vomiting began soon after she started taking the drug. Later in March, her doctor warned the baby was not developing properly.

She miscarried in early April but continued to take the drug, believing it would be an aid if she got pregnant again. When she phoned in a request for a refill of the prescription, the pharmacy realized its error, Mefford said.

Walgreens has not formally admitted its mistake. Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively said errors are rare but that the company investigates all reports of mistakes.

Hively said Walgreens has a multistep prescription-filling process with several safety checks aimed at reducing the chance of human error.

"We're just very sorry this miscarriage occurred," Hively said.

Mefford said the long-term ramifications of taking the chemotherapy drug were unclear. She said the couple worries that it could reduce their chances of having a child of their own -- Chanda Givens has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

Also uncertain is the impact of the drug on Chanda Givens' health. An oncologist told her that by taking Matulane she faces a higher risk of developing solid tumors such as lung cancer, Mefford said.

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