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FAMILY BLAMES RU-486 IN WOMAN'S DEATH

Father urges parents, children to communicate

Sep 20, 2003 | CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Two weeks ago, 18-year-old Holly Patterson seemed happy and healthy, but her parents now know she was secretly pregnant and afraid to tell them.

On Wednesday, Patterson died in a Pleasanton hospital of what her father says was a horrible bacterial infection after use of the RU-486 abortion pill, and the Alameda County Coroner's office is investigating her death.

The controversial pill, available in France since 1988 and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, has been used by about 150,000 American women in the past three years to induce abortions.

Holly's father, Monty Patterson, said he didn't learn until hours before his daughter's death that she was pregnant, let alone that she and her boyfriend had gone to Planned Parenthood in Hayward on Sept. 10 to get RU-486, or mifepristone.

It wasn't until Wednesday morning, when his daughter was in critical care at ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, that he learned she was seven weeks pregnant and had taken the pill. He says a doctor there told him she died because she hadn't aborted the entire fetus, causing a systemic infection and septic shock.

"Holly was suffering in silence," Monty Patterson said Friday, sobbing. "She believed everything would be OK, and was ashamed to let anyone know she'd done this. What we want to tell young ladies and teenage girls is no matter what, no matter how bad things are, talk with family and friends. We will support you. Family has the strength to pull you through anything ...

"Parents need to talk to their children, and children need to talk with their parents. There's no quick fix for pregnancy, no magic pill."

Last year, the Washington Post reported the FDA and the RU-486 manufacturer sent a letter informing doctors that two women died and four others became seriously ill after taking it.

Although her family is convinced that Patterson's death is related to RU-486, it could be some time before the cause of death is known.

Alameda County Coroner's investigator Frank Gentle said his office is awaiting results of an autopsy and tests done at the hospital prior to Patterson's death, which could take several weeks.

Planned Parenthood would not comment on this case, but Planned Parenthood Golden Gate President and CEO Dian Harrison issued a statement acknowledging "a patient who recently sought health care services at a Planned Parenthood center died Wednesday at a hospital in Pleasanton.

"The cause of death is unknown at this time," Harrison said. "We extend our deepest sympathies to the family. We wish them strength and support in this tragic time."

After Patterson received the abortion pill Sept. 10, her father said he later learned, his daughter was to complete the process Sept. 13 by taking misoprostol to help her body expel the aborted fetal tissue.

Patterson came home early from work Saturday feeling sick.

"She was telling everyone she was having a bad (menstrual) period, that she was having bad cramps," her father said.

He said severe bleeding and cramping continued Sunday. That night, her boyfriend took her to the emergency room at ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton. She was sent home with pain pills.

ValleyCare spokeswoman Kathy Campbell said she couldn't comment.

Monty Patterson said his daughter stayed at her boyfriend's Tuesday, too ill to eat or walk.

The Planned Parenthood Web site describes the most common side effects of mifepristone as abdominal pain, bleeding and gastrointestinal distress. It also says no deaths have taken place as a result of the use of mifepristone.

Last year, the Washington Post reported there was no proof that the abortion pill caused the problems, but the FDA and the company that manufactures RU-486 sent a letter to doctors informing them that three women who took RU-486 bled from ruptured ectopic pregnancies. One woman died. Two others developed serious bacterial infections, and one died. A sixth patient had a heart attack days after taking RU-486 and misoprostol.

RU-486 was designed for women pregnant seven weeks or less. But Dr. Eric Schaff, chairman of the National Abortion Federation, said Friday that studies have shown it can be used for up to nine weeks "very safely."

Schaff said infection is rare with drug-induced abortion because it doesn't involve surgery. Even then, he said there are only 0.5 deaths per 100,000 surgical abortions performed in the first trimester, compared with 10 deaths per 100,000 for women who do not have abortions and continue on to childbirth.

Women who miscarry naturally occasionally have died from septic infection, he said.

Patterson, who worked at Macy's, had just bought a new red Honda Civic and planned on starting at Las Positas College this spring, her dad said.


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