Donald Cote’s Story (by Megan Cote Baer)
My father was 81 and in generally excellent health when he started taking Amiodarone in February 2011. He had a history of heart issues, which beginning with a double bypass in 1990, had to be monitored over the years. Our family thought that heart issues would be his ultimate demise one day; little did we know that a drug administered by my Dad’s cardiologist would be the thing to take his life. Not anything heart-related, this drug DESTROYED my father’s lungs.
It started in November 2010 when he had another stent put in, his fourth. At that time, I remember the cardiologist said “We got your plumbing fixed, now we have to fix your electric.” Testing after the stent insertion indicated he had atrial fibrillation, ergo the need for Amiodarone.
I will never know if the doctor apprised him of the serious, potentially-fatal risks involved with taking this drug. I know that he performed lung capacity tests, but he did not begin the loading dose in the hospital under strict monitoring as it is indicated.
My dad has been marching with the Honor Guard in our local St. Patrick’s Day parade for the last several years. This year, after having been on Amiodarone for a few weeks, he was just not feeling up to it, so he had to forgo it. He had started to develop a dry cough and was just feeling “under the weather.” After a visit to his primary, he was told it was allergies and given OTC meds. As his cough persisted and worsened, he went back to the primary, who then sent him for a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. As a regular cardiology patient, my Dad’s x-rays were sent to the cardiologist, as well as the primary. At some point earlier, the cardiologist had halted the Amiodarone, telling my father that it wasn’t having desired results. Now, seeing the x-rays, the cardiologist quickly set up an appointment for my dad to see a pulmonary specialist.
The pulmonologist ordered him oxygen, but within a day, he was so bad, he had great difficulty walking up the stairs to go to bed.
He was admitted to the hospital and went from canula to bi-pap mask to respirator. My mother will never forget the call she received from the hospital informing her that they had, with his permission, put my dad on a respirator. She was told that if he had children, they should come right away. After a week, they were able to wean him off the respirator, back onto the bi-pap, but his progress was minimal. His chest x-rays showed very cloudy areas in both lungs. A lung biopsy indicated he had interstitial lung disease. In response to direct questions regarding this being caused by Amiodarone, the pulmonologists resisted attributing his condition to Amiodarone, suggesting it was more idiopathic. My dad for the next few days was relatively lucid, taking almost every opportunity to request to go home or stating his disbelief that they weren’t letting him go home.
Then doctors approached us to talk about hospice care, which though there’s a stigma attached to it, we were willing to embrace if we could bring our dad home to be in his comfortable surroundings. The cruel reality was that we could not even avail ourselves of hospice’s services; Amiodarone had first inflamed and then stiffened my Dad’s lungs to such a state that his oxygen needs were astronomical. The truth of the matter was that our father was dying before our very eyes and there was not a single thing we could do about it. To make my dad feel as comfortable as possible my mom brought his pajamas and the blanket he used on his recliner at home. I brought a CD player and played the music he loved to listen to at home. My mother spent every day of his two-week stay at his side, my three brothers and I came most every day and all the grandchildren came to see him at one time or another to see their Pop and tell him to get well.
My father died on April 18, 2011.
I am certain my dad would have gone on living many more productive years were he not stopped in his tracks by this devastating drug. As it was he kept very busy. He did most of the maintenance around his home, he travelled and visited with many friends, he was a devoted and reliable babysitter for all of his grandchildren and a loyal, dedicated participant in the Honor Guard (Dad was a Korean War vet). My father very rarely said no to the Honor Guard; he was extremely reliable. He and my mom were really enjoying their “golden years”. Having him taken so cruelly from us is really painful. We all agree that if he died of natural causes, we would be more accepting of his death. This feels like he was poisoned and taken before his time.
My family and I, knowing what we know, do not want one other person go through this tragic scenario. Amiodarone needs to be removed from the market. The risks most definitely outweigh any possible benefit. When a side effect of a drug is death in such an unacceptable number of people, someone has to rethink its usage. I can say with absolute certainty: