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Bausch & Lomb eye infections, lawsuits, surface in Nashville

Feb 13, 2007 | Two Nashville-area couples have filed separate federal lawsuits against the manufacturer of a contact lens solution that last year was the source of a nationwide health scare and the subject of a national recall.

In early January, John Richardson of Clarksville brought a civil lawsuit against Bausch & Lomb, the maker of the soft contact lens solution “ReNu with MoistureLoc Multi-Purpose Solution,” alleging his use of the solution led directly to his development of “Fusarium Keratitis,” a serious eye condition that can cause permanent vision loss.

Last week, a second similar suit was also filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville on behalf of Kathy Binkley of Nashville. Like Richardson, Binkley claimed her contraction of fusarium keratitis was linked to her use of the ReNu solution.

Although these two lawsuits are the first to hit Middle Tennessee courts, they are far from the first to be levied against Bausch & Lomb, which is facing potentially years worth of litigation as a result of the ReNu with MoistureLoc solution.

In May of last year, Bausch & Lomb removed ReNu with MoistureLoc from the market after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) linked the solution to the fungal eye infection fusarium keratitis.

After more 100 confirmed cases of the eye fungus were reported, the CDC study found that the fungus likely originated in the company’s Greenville, S.C. plant.

Local experts say the number of known Middle Tennessee cases was in the single digits.

But for Richardson and Binkley, the cases were serious, according to their lawsuits.

Richardson, who was diagnosed with Fusarium Keratitis in February of 2006, underwent a surgical procedure known as a corneal transplant “in an attempt to save his eye and restore some useful vision.”

He has suffered permanent vision loss as a result of his condition and procedure, Richardson’s lawsuit says.

Binkley contracted the fungus in the form of a “Fusarium corneal ulcer” in November 2005, and underwent a penetrating keratoplasty two months later.

Binkley has suffered decreased vision, distorted and blurred vision, eye pain, headaches, light sensitivity and possible permanent vision loss, her lawsuit claims. She is 44 years old, said her attorney.

Dr. Jeffrey Sonsino, an Optometrist at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, said his hospital has only seen one case of Fusarium Keratitis.

But Sonsino said the CDC study was “pretty compelling” in showing at least a correlation between use of the ReNu with MoistureLoc solution and the fungus.

And Sonsino, who is also the Chair of the Anterior Segment Committee of the Cornea and Contact Lens section of the American Optometric Association, said the condition that many ReNu patients developed is a very serious one.

“Fusarium Keratitis is a very severe ocular condition where a fungus actually invades the cornea. And one of the reasons it is so serious is because it is very difficult to treat,” Sonsino said.

“A very high proportion of the patients who have this kind of infection will end up losing some vision. In fact, one third of the patients who had Fusarium keratitis in this outbreak required a surgical procedure called a corneal transplant,” he continued. “That’s not a simple procedure and it’s one that’s fraught with complications.

“This is a very serious condition,” Sonsino said.

It is perhaps for that reason that a tremendous number of private attorneys have already begun soliciting clients who developed this condition in the hopes of filing a class action lawsuit against Bausch & Lomb.

Currently, the litigants against Bausch & Lomb have not been awarded “class” status.

But the company’s immediate future is already proving to be less than auspicious.

Just last week, the the Associated Press reported that Bausch & Lomb lowered its 2006 revenue forecast, citing a “slower-than-expected recovery” from the ReNu with MoistureLoc recall and “sluggish” contact lens sales.

The good news, Sonsino said, is that with the faulty solution off the shelf, the fungal outbreak has likely vanished.

“It’s pretty conclusive that this outbreak was due to this product,” Sonsino said. “But my best guess is that from a medical standpoint this has blown over since they’ve stopped all the shipments of this product.”

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