Two months after a Shuswap woman died of complications with the contraceptive Yasmin, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada is preparing a new position statement on the connection between blood clots, oral contraceptives and weight.
After six weeks on the birth control pill Yasmin, Rhonda Bergen, 36, of Salmon Arm, developed blood clots in her lungs and died suddenly Dec. 16, 2012. An autopsy confirmed she died of venous thromboembolism or VTE, for which contraceptives are a known risk factor. But Yasmin is no ordinary birth control pill.
Natalie Wright, director of communications and public education, says the society hasn't been blind to the lawsuits against the makers of Yasmin. While any contraceptive is a risk factor, Yasmin contains Drospirenone, a controversial fourth generation synthetic hormone.
"Extensive research has been done on that drug and the risk of blood clots," Wright says.
In 2011, Health Canada found birth control pills containing drospirenone could be three times more likely to cause blood clots than other birth control pills. The society's position statement will detail what they know for sure about the links between oral contraceptives containing drospirenone and deadly blood clots.
This is good news for Bergen's family who want the risks of Yasmin revealed. Deb Butler, Bergen's older sister, says it's about time.
"I know it will never bring my sister back, but I hope the information reaches women who are on it, or who might be taking it down the road."
FIGHT FOR ANSWERS
Since her death, Butler's family has not only had to cope their loss, they've had to fight for answers about why Bergen's health declined so rapidly.
Butler says Yasmin never should have been prescribed. Her sister already had one risk factor for VTE—she was obese. A label on boxes of Yasmin recommends healthcare professionals consider their patient's existing risk of blood clots before prescribing it.
Butler says Bergen always struggled with her weight, and was diagnosed with poly cystic ovarian syndrome in the summer of 2012. A symptom of the condition is increased hair growth due to an imbalance of male hormones.
"My sister, already self-conscious of her weight, was now self conscious of this hair growth too," Butler says.
She was prescribed Yasmin to minimize the hair growth.
About five weeks after taking the drug, Bergen went to a walk-in clinic because she was having trouble breathing. The doctor told her she had the flu, put her on amoxicillin and ordered a chest X-ray. Another few days went by, and Bergen's condition only worsened. She went to emergency on Dec. 15, had an X-ray that was clear, and was told to go home and take ibuprofen. Just hours after Bergen got home, she called an ambulance, barely able to breathe. A CT Scan revealed blood clots in her lungs.
Butler says Bergen was never moved to the intensive care unit, and speculates the doctors weren't aware of her critical condition until it was too late. No one, including herself, realized how serious things were. She returned home to her life in Kamloops, expecting to see her sister again soon for another shift at Bergen's bedside.
NO CHANCE TO SAY GOODBYE
"I never got the sense that she could die," Butler says. "I gave her a kiss on the cheek. I noticed her skin was quite cool."
Butler wasn't home long before she was told to come back.
"I got to Salmon Arm around 9 p.m.," Butler says. "But it was too late, she was gone."
Because the doctor on staff had attributed the death to natural causes, the coroner refused to investigate. B.C. Coroner's Service spokesperson Barb McLintock told media the coroner was just following the rules, and that the coroner has no legal jurisdiction over someone who dies of natural causes while under the care of a physician.
Bergen's family took it upon themselves to find out what really happened. A $1,200 autopsy gave them the answers they live with today.
"Right from the beginning she was doomed," Butler says. "At 36 years old there was no reason for her to die. The fatal mistake was the prescription."
Butler says the family is seeking legal counsel and considering its options. They may try to join a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Yasmin. The lawsuit represents dozens of families across Canada who have lost a loved one in similar circumstances.
"We want to get the word out so other women don't suffer the same fate."
To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230