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Saturday, January 6, 2007

Our Hero: She Didn't Sue, Part 2: A drug error

Yesterday I described John Eric Kauffman's experience in taking Zyprexa. His mother, Millie Beik, is educating others about the dangers of Zyprexa, in the front-page article in the New York Times. By telling her story, she warns, teaches, and empowers others.

She performed another unusual and vital step: she asked for an autopsy. The doctor who performed it discovered that her son had died from an irregular heartbeat, which the autopsy report said had probably been caused by an enlarged heart caused by his high blood pressure. His high blood pressure had begun during his years on Zyprexa, when he had gained 100 pounds.

Autopsies are rarely performed nowadays, though doctors acknowledge that they provide critical and unique knowledge. They help doctors learn so they will not repeat the same mistakes. Personally, I greatly regret that we did not conduct an autopsy of a family member who almost certainly died from a surgical error.

Advice to family members and friends: If you suspect a death is due to a medical error, gently ask the surviving relative whether they would consider an autopsy, in the interest of saving someone else's life. If they say Yes, help make it happen.