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Faith Gibson first started to take Paxil to help her with her anxiety and continued to use it through her pregnancy.
But the Surrey mother-of-two’s stress levels went way up after her daughter was born with a hole in her heart and required open-heart surgery to repair the damage.
At first she thought her daughter’s ordeal was just bad luck. But after reading an article in a newspaper about the issue, she began to believe that Paxil might have caused her child’s health problems.
She filed a class action lawsuit against the drug company, GlaxoSmithKline U.K. Limited, claiming that she and other mothers had not been properly warned about the risks of taking Paxil during pregnancy.
Nine years after filing the lawsuit, Gibson is happy to report that the two sides have reached a settlement in principle for $6.2 million. About 50 other Canadian women and their children have so far come forward to join the class action.
“I’m happy I didn’t have to go to trial and go that route with them,” Gibson, 41, said Wednesday. “I’m pleased at how it all turned out.”
Since her daughter, Meah Bartram, had corrective surgery at the age of six months, she remains particularly susceptible to whichever cold or flu is going around.
In general, Meah, now 11, seems to be doing better physically. But the ordeal has affected her mentally as well, says her mom.
“Any kind of pain she has in her heart or any sort of discomfort she feels in her chest, she feels like it’s something bad going on and that she might have to have surgery again,” said Gibson, who owns a cafe in south Surrey.
“That side of things hasn’t subsided at all. She’s got a nasty scar on her chest to remember it by, so it’s always there.”
The $6.2-million settlement, which the parties will seek to have approved by a judge March 27, calls for the mothers affected to receive 25 per cent of whatever amount a court-appointed administrator decides they and their children are entitled to, while their children get the rest.
David Rosenberg, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the amounts will vary depending on the severity of the damage done but estimated that the average settlement for each mother-child pairing will be around $150,000.
“Everybody is very pleased,” said Rosenberg. “So far we’ve had only a positive reception. This has been a fight that has been going on for more than nine years.”
Though she and her daughter stand to receive a substantial sum, Gibson said money was never her primary motivation.
“I was just trying to get some accountability out of them for what they did,” said Gibson. “Of course, the money is a bonus, but at the same time it should have never happened in the first place.”
Meah was born in September 2005. Gibson alleged that the company knew as early as June 2003 that there was a significant risk of serious adverse cardiovascular complications for newborns from pregnant mothers ingesting Paxil.
The drug was first approved for use in Canada in 1993 and remains a popular treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is still prescribed to pregnant women but the warnings on the labels as to whether it is suitable for them have become more severe than when the drug was initially marketed and sold, said Rosenberg.
The lawyer encouraged mothers in B.C. who believe they are eligible to join the suit to come forward before the settlement hearing, which is the deadline in this province. The period of potential eligibility is from Jan. 1, 1993 to Dec. 3, 2012. B.C. mothers can call Rosenberg’s Vancouver law firm at 604-879-4505.
Due to different laws elsewhere in Canada, mothers outside B.C. have missed their deadline.
In an email, GlaxoSmithKline said that despite the settlement in principle, it does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing but has agreed to resolve the class action case to avoid the time and expense associated with a trial and subsequent steps in the proceedings.
“We continue to be of the view that the scientific evidence does not establish that exposure to Paxil during pregnancy causes cardiovascular birth defects.
“Patient safety is our highest concern and we continue to believe that the company provided accurate and updated information in relation to Paxil to regulators, and communicated important safety information to regulatory agencies, the scientific community and healthcare professionals.”