Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Merck’s Pathologist Says Merck Manual Is Wrong

Angleton, TX—Merck continued its daunting task on Monday of rebuilding its defense after days of crippling testimony from its own witnesses. Merck’s expert pathologist, Dr. Thomas Wheeler, took the stand to explain to the jury that Bob Ernst, whose widow and children have sued Merck in the nation’s first Vioxx case, that Vioxx did not cause Mr. Ernst’s death.

Merck’s Pathologist Disagrees With Coroner’s Testimony

Not surprisingly, Dr. Wheeler is well credentialed in the area of pathology. He attended Baylor University medical school where he completed a residency in pathology and currently serves as the associate chairman of the pathology department. (Click here to see Dr. Wheeler: http://www.bcm.edu/pathology/Ayala-Wheeler/index.htm.) Dr. Wheeler has received awards recognizing his achievements in pathology, and has published several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters about pathology. While his current research focuses on prostate cancer pathology, he does have some experience in the area at issue in this litigation—cardiac pathology.

After his review of Mr. Ernst’s autopsy report and the deposition testimony of the coroner, Dr. Maria Araneta, Dr. Wheeler opined that Mr. Ernst’s cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia secondary to coronary arteriosclerosis.” Just days before, Dr. Araneta testified that while her autopsy report noted the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia, Mr. Ernst most likely died of a heart attack. The distinction is important because Merck claims Vioxx does not cause arrhythmias. Consequently, Merck argues that Vioxx could not have caused Mr. Ernst’s death. Plaintiffs argue that Vioxx causes heart attacks and that Mr. Ernst died of a heart attack, but died so suddenly that his heart showed no evidence of a heart attack, such as damage to his heart tissue. Alternatively, plaintiffs have shown the jury several Merck studies, which support their argument that Vioxx does indeed cause arrhythmias.

If Mr. Ernst died of a heart attack caused by a clot or blockage in his heart arteries, Dr. Wheeler testified that the coroner would have seen evidence of a clot. She did not. Dr. Araneta testified that she did not see any evidence of a clot because it likely dissolved or dislodged during CPR. Dr. Wheeler categorized Dr. Araneta’s explanation as “absolutely false” and “preposterous.” Dr. Wheeler concluded that Mr. Ernst did not die from a heart attack and instead died of a cardiac arrhythmia. He added that he can say “with almost complete confidence” that Vioxx did not cause Mr. Ernst’s death.

Pathologist Says Merck Manual and Textbook Are Wrong

On cross-examination by chief plaintiffs’ counsel, Mark Lanier, Dr. Wheeler acknowledged that he has testified for the defense in a series of tobacco, asbestos, and drug cases. Lanier also established that Dr. Wheeler’s main area of expertise is prostate pathology and that while he does have experience in several areas of pathology, his focus is not on cardiac pathology.

Using the Merck Manual, Merck’s physician desk reference, Lanier cornered Dr. Wheeler about Mr. Ernst’s cause of death. Mr. Ernst suffered cardiac arrest because of electrical dysfunction of the heart or ventricular fibrillation. The causes of ventricular fibrillation, according to the Merck Manual, range from hypothermia to vasoactive drugs to heart attack. Lanier reviewed each potential cause with Dr. Wheeler and ruled out every cause except heart attack. Although two doctors from Dr. Wheeler’s Baylor medical school sit on the editorial board for the Merck Manual, Dr. Wheeler responded that the list of causes from the Merck Manual was “incorrect.”

Lanier also cross-examined Dr. Wheeler with excerpts from the textbook he uses when teaching pathology courses. It corroborates the plaintiffs’ argument that Mr. Ernst died of a heart attack even though his body showed no evidence of a clot. It provides that most arrhythmias are associated with heart attacks, many heart attacks are associated with clots, and many clots resolve. Dr. Wheeler was left to question the wording of the textbook and characterized the wording as a “typo” yielding laughter and eye rolling from the gallery.

Dr. Wheeler is far and away Merck’s best witness to date. His demeanor is calm and collected—never appearing agitated by cross-examination. He made concessions when necessary, but with a confidence and decisiveness such that he did not appear to be making any concessions at all. While Lanier effectively raised questions about Dr. Wheeler’s opinions, he conveyed a cohesive alternative opinion about the cause of Bob Ernst’s death for consideration by the jury.

Continue to log onto www.firstvioxxtrial.blogspot.com to follow the daily events of the nation's first Vioxx trial.

My name is Tina Harris and i would like to show you my personal experience with Vioxx.

I am 40 years old. Have been on Vioxx for 6 months now. I had quit taking Vioxx long before the recall because it was the only new med introduced into my regimen at the time the symptoms started. I was told that if I continued to take it, I would be let go from my job because of inability to perform simple tasks.

I have experienced some of these side effects -
vertigo, diarrhea, abdominal pain, respiratory problems and memory loss. I still have memory loss and have gaps in my thinking process where I can't even think of common words I am trying to say, even to this day.

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Tina Harris

Vioxx Prescription Medication
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