Earlier this month, actor Chuck Norris and his wife, Gena, filed a lawsuit against 11 companies allegedly responsible for poisoning Gina with a gadolinium-based contrast agent. Following a series of routine MRI scans, the couple claims, the drug led to Gena’s gadolinium deposition disease. According to the lawsuit, it also cost her nearly $2 Million in out-of-pocket medical expenses for multiple hospitalizations, and nearly cost Gena her life.
Defendants include McKesson, Bracco, and other manufacturers of the agents, which were designed to enhance the quality of MRI images when injected. While these companies defend their contrast agents as safe, the Norrises allege that the manufacturers failed to warn consumers of life-threatening risks. The lawsuit seeks $10 Million in damages to cover the couple’s mounting medical costs.
How Do Contrast Agents Work?
In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, doctors take pictures inside the body to help diagnose diseases. Radiologists have conducted the procedure to detect various diseases, including tumors, since the late 1970s.
Indeed, gadolinium-based contrast agents are not new either. Used on more than 300 million patients worldwide since 1988, they are widely deemed safe and designed to pass out of the body through urine hours after the MRI. But gadolinium, a heavy metal, is otherwise toxic.
Studies suggest gadolinium is especially dangerous to patients with kidney failure but can deposit in the tissue of certain organs (including the brain, bones, and kidneys) even when kidneys function normally. There, the metal can remain for years.
According to a lawsuit filed in the San Francisco Superior Court, Norris began experiencing a plethora of long-term health complications in 2012 following 3 such MRIs. The procedures left her debilitated with cognitive impairment, violent shaking, burning pain, kidney damage, difficulty breathing, and loss of energy – all symptoms commonly misdiagnosed for Lyme disease or ALS, but later found to be caused by gadolinium.
Although her symptoms have since improved, Norris suffers damage to her central nervous system that still requires stem cell therapies almost 5 years after her poisoning.
“It feels like a hot poker is going up my spine,” she said. “I am broken. I don’t blame the doctors at all, because (companies) have been keeping things hidden and in the shadows.”
Norris: Stricter Warnings Needed for MRI Candidates
Through their lawsuit, the latest of roughly 500 similar complaints lodged in San Francisco, the couple hopes to bring more attention to gadolinium toxicity. While potential side effects are common knowledge among doctors, the Norrises argue that manufacturers of gadolinium-containing agents have not taken appropriate steps to notify patients.
“Over the past several years, my focus has been on Gena’s health,” Chuck Norris told The Washington Post. “And now we are working together to speak out about the dangers of MRI contrast agents.” In another statement, his wife added: “Unfortunately, litigation is the only course of action we can take to hold the drug companies accountable for threatening the lives of so many innocent people who undergo MRIs.”
The Norrises also hope to educate patients on the lack of warnings and treatments in place for gadolinium-based agent poisoning. The FDA recently voted to mandate additional warning labels on the risks of prolonged gadolinium retention, but in May announced that no evidence points to brain damage. The agency also has yet to approve chelation therapy, the most common form of gadolinium removal and a vital treatment patients must pay for themselves. Norris has had to travel as far as China for controversial treatments not yet approved in the U.S.
In response to the complaint, McKesson said it “will respond in a timely manner,” adding that the company “takes patient safety very seriously and stands behind the safety of all its products.” However, experts believe issues of safety vary from patient to patient.
“Nobody should think that individual patient concerns are unimportant,” said Jacqueline Bello, a radiologist and chair of the American College of Radiology Quality and Safety Commission. “That said, in order to build a body of evidence and develop good science behind good patient care, we need to do more research. And in the meantime, we’re left with our best medical judgment in individual care of each patient.”