Teen peril prompts legal fight — (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune

By Christina Chapman,  Staff writer

Morris woman: Family sues, saying she hanged herself while suffering from hallucinations on drug

MORRIS  A Morris teenager hanged herself, causing a severe brain injury and disability, after suffering hallucinations while she was taking a form of the antidepressant drug Prozac, a lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses doctors of negligence, and also says companies Eli Lilly and PAR Pharmaceuticals Inc. were aware of the drug’s suicide risks and did not properly warn users.

Sara Lowery, now 19, functions at the level of a 6- to 9-month-old, relies on a feeding tube and is confined to a wheelchair after the 2003 suicide attempt, said Randolph Gordon, a Morris attorney who filed the lawsuit in December in Grundy County court.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Lowery and her parents, Susan Carey and Robert Lowery.

The teen’s future medical expenses will cost more than $14 million, and with Lowery and her parents’ pain, suffering and emotional anguish, they probably will sue for about $30 million, Gordon said.

“This is just such a tragedy that didn’t have to occur,” Gordon said.

Targets of complaint

The complaint names two pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly and PAR Pharmaceuticals Inc., along with PAR’s parent company, PAR Pharmaceutical Resources Inc.

In addition, three doctors are named, along with the Institute for Personal Development in Morris, Provena Hospitals and Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora.
The complaint alleges negligence by psychologist Dr. Jeanne Decker and psychiatrist Dr. Mary Cherian, both from the institute, and psychiatrist Dr. Ali Kishwar from Provena Mercy Medical Center, as listed in the filing. The medical center lists a Dr. Kishwar Ali as an employee, but phone calls to the center to clarify were not returned.

2003 incidents

In September 2003, when Lowery was 17 years old, she was prescribed fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, when treated by Cherian at Morris Hospital.

On Sept. 26, 2003, Lowery began sessions with Decker, and by that October, Lowery reported having auditory and visual hallucinations that were telling her to kill herself, according to the lawsuit.

When Lowery lived with her father, Robert Lowery, he had to remove all of the mirrors in his home because Lowery would see hallucinations of an old man, woman and baby in the mirrors commanding her to kill herself, Gordon said. She also reported seeing these hallucinations during school in the hallways, Gordon said.

In October 2003, Lowery tried to commit suicide a first time, slitting her throat while suffering from hallucinations after taking the drug, Gordon said. Lowery was hospitalized at Provena Mercy Medical Center after this first suicide attempt, Gordon said.

Lowery then told Dr. Ali Kishwar of the command hallucinations, Gordon said. Instead of taking her off the medication, he gave her nongeneric Prozac and increased her dosage at the hospital, Gordon said.

From October through December 2003, the hallucinations were noted in Lowery’s records at the Institute for Personal Development, where Lowery had sessions with Decker, Gordon said.

On Dec. 16, 2003, Lowery told Decker she was going to kill herself and showed Decker where she had carved “help” with a razor blade into her leg, Gordon said.

Decker made Lowery promise to be safe, and showed the “help” message to Lowery’s father, Gordon said. In addition, Decker told Lowery’s father that it was “her best session ever,” according to the filings.

“If the doctor tells you it was the best session ever, don’t you think your kid is getting better?” Gordon asked.

He said the statement misled Lowery’s parents and therefore they did not monitor her closely for suicidal tendencies.

The day after the session, Dec. 17, 2003, Lowery hanged herself, cutting off oxygen to her brain, causing severe brain injury and leaving herself disabled and in need of 24-hour care, according to the filing.

Lowery had been severely depressed because of her parents’ divorce, had an eating disorder, and had been a victim of sexual abuse from an acquaintance outside the family, Gordon said. All facts, he said, the defense will use as reasoning for her attempted suicide.

Gordon said Lowery had a history of cutting herself, but not suicide attempts, before being placed on a form of Prozac.

“I defy any defendant in this case to find one person in this county that says before she (Lowery) was placed on any of those stupid pills, if she ever had a hallucination or if she ever told her friends she wanted to kill herself,” Gordon said.

Decker and Cherian are being sued because they did not take Lowery off the fluoxetine when she reported the hallucinations or warn her parents of the dangers of the hallucinations, Gordon said.

Lowery grew up in Morris, but now lives in Alden Village Health Facility in Bloomingdale. Her mother, Susan Carey, moved to Bloomingdale to be close to her daughter.

Responses sought

Morry Smulevitz, media relations representative for Eli Lilly, said the company had no comment on pending litigation. PAR Pharmaceuticals has not yet been served.

The Institute for Personal Development and Cherian are being represented by Matthew Arnold and Doug Esp of Meyer Kreuzer Esp & Cores law firm. Arnold also said he had no comment at this time.

Decker is being represented by Steven Veltman with Pretzel & Stouffer Chartered law firm and had no comment. Provena Hospitals also had no comment, but attempts to get in touch with Ali from the medical center and a representative from the center were unsuccessful.

Pharmaceutical firms

Literature was available before November 2003 warning of the effects of antidepressants in children, according to the filing. Eli Lilly, PAR and other antidepressant manufacturers were not required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to put a “black-box” warning on the drug regarding suicidal thoughts until October 2004, after Lowery’s attempted suicide.

Gordon said Eli Lilly and PAR were aware of the drug’s suicidal risks and did not properly warn users.

“If the side effects of an antidepressant drug are hallucinations telling you to kill yourself, there is something wrong with that pill or drug,” Gordon said.