A popular birth control used by thousands of women has been proven to double the risk of life-threatening blood clots.
NuvaRing was approved by the FDA in 2001. It was marketed as an easy and safe way to do birth control, but some families tell a different story.
College graduate Erika Langhart had a lot to look forward to, with a job in Washington, D.C., and the possibility of law school in the future.
Then, Karen Langhart, Erika’s mother, received the phone call that no parent ever wants to receive.
Karen told CNN that she “picked up the phone and answered it, ‘Hi Schmoo, can’t wait to see you’- Schmoo-bear is our nickname for her - and it was Sean.”
Sean Coakley was Erika’s boyfriend. He had arrived to her apartment with groceries in hand only find to Erika collapsed on the floor with the fire department and paramedics already at the scene.
“[The paramedics] tried to revive her with CPR and while they were in the apartment, I think she had a heart attack and then two more on the way to the hospital in the ambulance, and another one in the hospital, and she never woke up,” said Rick Langhart, Erika’s father.
The doctor asked Karen if her daughter was using any birth control. When Karen said that Erika was using NuvaRing, the doctor realized what probably happened.
“He said well there’s a link between NuvaRing and pulmonary embolisms,” Karen said.
The doctors immediately removed the NuvaRing. Rick said “it was a nightmare.”
By the time Erika’s parents made it to the hospital, they found their daughter in a coma.
“They had determined that Erika had no brain activity and that because of her heart attacks they basically told us that she was brain dead and that’s it,” Rick told CNN.
According hospital records, NuvaRing was cited as a risk factor for Erika’s multiple pulmonary embolisms. The records confirmed what the victim’s parents told CNN, that a blood clot started in an artery/vein in Erika’s right thigh and made it all the way to their her lungs. This caused “massive” pulmonary embolisms and “multiple episodes of cardiac arrest.”
Erika died on Thanksgiving in 2011. She was only 24 years old.
Less than a year later, in August 2012, a woman training for the Olympics had a similar incident.
Megan Henry, from Utah, was a classmate of Erika Langhart’s at American University. She was training to compete in sledding for the Olympics but those dreams were put on hold after she started using NuvaRing.
Within weeks of starting the popular birth control method, Henry collapsed during training and was unable to breathe.
“I mean, I was struggling to breathe,” Henry told CNN. “It’s like an elephant was sitting on my chest at the time.”
Henry visited five doctors before anyone could give her a diagnosis. Then, a pulmonologist gave her the unfortunate news.
“I said, you know I started taking this birth control, is it related to this?” Henry said. “And he was like, yeah, I definitely think that you have blood clots and it’s from the birth control.”
X-rays, followed by a CAT scan and an ultrasound revealed even more unfortunate news.
“[The doctor] started to tell me, you have multiple pulmonary embolisms in both lungs,” Henry said. “They’re sending an ambulance, they’re going to come and they’re going to rush you to the emergency room … it just really took me by surprise and you know I knew it was something bad but I never imagined it would be something like that.”
Like Langhart, the hospital records cited that NuvaRing “was probably the risk factor” for Henry's pulmonary embolisms. The Olympic trainee went from being in top physical shape to having to use a breathing machine.
“Easy. Safe. That’s really how it was presented - easy, safe, low-dose hormone - you know, and it turns out it wasn’t,” Henry said. “It wasn’t at all.”
Studies show that combined hormonal contraceptives like NuvaRing have double the risk of blood clots in comparison to other types of birth control, according to Legal Tube. This is becuase of the synthetic progestin used in NuvaRing.
Henry told CNN that had she known that, she “never would have taken it.”
“There are other options out there for birth control that have risks, but not doubling the risks,” said Henry, who went on to speak about her former classmate, Langhart. “I think if I knew what I know now and, you know, if Erika had known that, a number of people, I think that they would have made a slightly different choice.”
While studies have shown that the incidences of life-threatening side effects are extremely low - fewer than 11 cases per 10,000 women that use it for a year - families that have suffered loss believe that NuvaRing did not properly warn customers about their product.
The Langharts, Megan Henry, and 3,800 others have sued Merck, the company that currently owns NuvaRing. The lawsuit alleges that the original manufacturer of NuvaRing, Organon, “failed to adequately warn consumers about a heightened risk of blood clots associated with the use of NuvaRing, even though the manufacturer was aware that NuvaRing posed a greater risks than other hormonal contraceptives.”
Merck agreed to pay $100 million in damages in February, without admitting any wrongdoing. But the Langharts refused to settle, claiming that what Merck is doing is “criminal.”
“I don’t understand why a company in the United States would allow that kind of product on the market. It’s not the way Americans do business,” Rick Langhart said. “And for them to do what they do in total disregard for what’s going on. It’s criminal to me.”
The Langharts started a nonprofit to help raise awareness for women using any form of birth control. They named it, “Informed Choice for Amerika,” in honor of their daughter.