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Shawnee Heart Patient Sues Ephedra Supplement Maker

Jan 29, 2004 | Lawrence Journal World A Shawnee man whose 2002 heart attack landed him in Lawrence Memorial Hospital is suing the maker of a popular dietary supplement for his illness, part of a growing legal movement against ephedra-related products.

Gerald Portillo, along with his wife, Josephine, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court at Kansas City, Kan., naming Metabolife International Inc. and The Chemins Co. Inc. as defendants.

In the suit, Portillo says he suffered a heart attack on Feb. 2, 2002, after taking a recommended dosage of Metabolife 356, which contains ephedra. He was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, then to University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., for surgery.

The lawsuit contends the defendants knew or should have known about the dangers of ephedra.

"Defendants continued to market its ephedra containing dietary supplement to (Portillo) and consumers when there were safer alternative methods and treatments," said the lawsuit.

A Metabolife representative said the company did not discuss pending litigation; a Chemins Co. representative did not return a call for comment.

The federal Food and Drug Administration in December issued a statement warning consumers to stop using or buying dietary supplements containing ephedra, a natural substance derived from plants. While ephedra was promoted as speeding up a user's metabolism and aiding weight loss, critics said it also caused heart problems and the substance was blamed for the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher in February 2003.

Portillo's lawsuit is the second against Metabolife in Kansas; the first was filed by a Shawnee County man in August.

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