Two heart specialists testified Thursday that a man suing the maker of Vioxx over his heart attack had a healthy heart before being stricken, and that the painkiller may have been the cause.
Humeston, a Boise, Idaho, postal worker, was a nonsmoker with no history of high blood pressure, heart disease, family history of heart trouble or diabetes when he had the heart attack in September 2001, Dr. David Sim testified on a videotape played for jurors in Humeston’s product liability trial against Merck & Co.
“There very likely was something else going on that caused this event,” said Sim, who treated Humeston afterward. Vioxx was “potentially related” to the heart attack, he said.
Sim said Humeston’s arteries were normal except for one partially blocked segment that caused the heart attack. On cross-examination by Merck attorney Hope Freiwald, Sim said he couldn’t rule out that a plaque rupture had contributed to the heart attack, but called that “speculation” by Freiwald.
Humeston, 60, survived the heart attack and testified Wednesday. His case, one of about 5,000 pending Vioxx product liability lawsuits, is the first to go to trial since a Texas jury hearing a similar lawsuit hit Merck with a $253.4 million verdict last month; that amount will be slashed under Texas’ punitive damage cap.
Humeston contends Vioxx caused his heart attack and that Merck knew of the drug’s risks but didn’t warn doctors or patients in time. The Whitehouse Station-based company pulled the drug off the market last September after it was linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes when taken for at least 18 months. Merck has said it put patients’ safety first.
Cardiology and echocardiography expert Dr. Nicholas DePace, who examined Humeston and reviewed his medical records as a paid consultant, said he believes the Merck & Co. painkiller triggered a blood clot that blocked an artery and caused the heart attack.
Humeston, who was 56 at the time, had “pristine” arteries except for the one that became blocked, stopping blood flow to part of the lower rear part of Humeston’s heart, according to DePace, who has worked as a paid Merck speaker in the past. DePace is to return to the stand Friday to be cross-examined by Merck’s lawyers.
Also Thursday, Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee put off acting on Merck’s request for a mistrial, which was filed Tuesday. Merck says medical statistics expert Richard Kronmal violated a pretrial order banning witnesses from discussing Merck’s ethics or the company’s withdrawal of Vioxx when he testified last week.
Humeston’s 21-year-old son, Seth, also testified Thursday, telling jurors the heart attack and its aftermath had made his father less active and less upbeat than he had been before.