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Napa Man Refused Heart Surgery Before Death

Apr 18, 2003 | Napa News

A Napa doctor, who is being sued for the wrongful death of a Napa man allegedly caused by heartburn medication, testified Thursday that he does not recall receiving updates from the manufacturer about the drug's side effects.

Thomas Suard, an 18-year family practitioner in Napa, said in Napa County Superior Court that he gave the drug, Propulsid, to John Calvert in July 1999 to treat nighttime indigestion. Sixty days later, Calvert, 46, suffered a fatal heart attack.

Calvert's family, wife Rosemary and children Jennifer, John and James is suing Suard and the drug's maker, Janssen Pharmaceutica, a division of Johnson & Johnson. Janssen took the drug off the market in 2000 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it could cause irregular heartbeat and sudden death.

Janssen claims to have sent out "Dear Doctor Letters" in June 1998 to more than 800,000 physicians, including Suard, detailing Propulsid's possible side effects and warning against giving it to patients with heart conditions.

In 1996, Napa cardiologist Daniel Andrews, to whom Suard referred Calvert, found Calvert to have three clogged arteries and heart disease. On April 3, Suard testified he would not have given Calvert Propulsid if he had known its side effects. That testimony was resumed Thursday. Suard will return to the stand when the defense takes up its case, his attorney said.

When asked by Janssen's attorney, Charles Preuss, if he received any warnings from Janssen, Suard said, "I don't recall."

Suard said he normally receives hundreds of letters a month and the only letters from Janssen that he remembers "appeared to be marketing tools rather than changes in giving prescriptions."

Andrews, who began testimony Wednesday and finished Thursday, said he wanted Calvert to have triple-bypass surgery in 1996. He said Calvert refused surgery, deciding instead to treat his condition with medication and exercise.

"It was really clear that (Calvert) had a big-time problem," said Andrews, who added that Calvert was in denial. "This man was a registered nurse and was recommended heart surgery by a cardiologist."

Andrews, who signed Calvert's death certificate as well as overseeing his heart disease treatment, said Calvert's condition was further complicated by diabetes and a family history of heart problems.

"I felt he was at risk of an early death," Andrews said. "Mr. Calvert was a friend of mine, he was a very good man. I gave him good advice and he decided to look the other way."

When Suard's attorney, Leeanne Patterson, asked Andrews why he did not order an autopsy after Calvert's death, Andrews said that doing so would not have provided any answers about the cause. An empty Propulsid package Rosemary Calvert claimed to have found the day after Calvert's death is the only evidence that he took the drug shortly before dying.

"When I received the call that Mr. Calvert died unexpectedly," Andrews said, "it was like I was waiting for it to happen."

The trial is now expected to last well into May.

Calvert's oldest son, John, testified Thursday that his father played an active role in his life. He also said that he misses his father.

"Right now it's like losing a friend, a really close friend," he said, while fighting back tears. "I know he would want to be there for the important days of my life. Anything I do now, he's not there so it's not as big as it could be."

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