by Mary Shomon
January 2000 -- On Wednesday, January 26, 2000, five-time Olympic gold medalist and thyroid patient Gail
Devers testified to Congress about her own years of misdiagnosis, during which a severe case of
hyperthyroidism went undiscovered.
Devers' testimony was part of a Congressional investigation into ways to combat medical
mistakes that are estimated to kill up to 98,000 hospitalized Americans a year. An unknown
additional number of people are harmed or killed by mistakes outside of hospitals each year as
well. The Congressional inquiry is based on a report that was released by the Institute of Medicine in November of
1999. The study called for mandatory reporting of medical errors, and for Congress to create a
federal Center for Patient Safety to investigate ways to prevent medical errors and establish better
standards for patient safety.
The proposal is controversial. Doctors' groups fear that mandatory reporting will fuel the current
medical malpractice and litigation onslaught. Some lawmakers feel that a federal Center for
Patient Safety simply duplicates the job of current federal health agencies and departments.
In Devers' case, doctor after doctor failed to recognize the signs of severe Graves' disease, as the
Olympic gold medal-winning athlete dropped from 125 to only 87 pounds, suffered debilitating
fatigue, lost nearly all her hair, and suffered other symptoms she has described as
Devers, known as the ``fastest woman in the world,'' left her first Olympics in 1998, feeling
weak, forgetful, and suffering a variety of other thyroid symptoms such as hair loss. Her famous
ultra-long fingernails were breaking.
In Devers' testimony, she described how doctors dismissed her symptoms of weight loss, fatigue,
rapid heart rate, and dry skin as normal for an Olympic athlete in training. After more than two
years, and in such a severe state that doctors discussed amputating her leg, Devers was finally
diagnosed. She had radioactive iodine treatment to disable her thyroid, and was put on thyroid
hormone replacement therapy. She went on to win gold medals in the 100-meter dash at the 1992
and 1996 Olympic Games.
Devers is now urging Americans to learn the early warning signs of critical conditions, including
thyroid disease, so they can better communicate with doctors and demand better care.
Gail Devers is a paid spokeswoman for the GlandCentral Campaign, sponsored by the American
Medical Women's Association, and funded by Knoll Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of Synthroid
brand levothyroxine sodium thyroid hormone. Synthroid is the top-selling thyroid hormone on
the market, and the number two drug sold in the U.S. Synthroid was recently the subject of a
proposed class action settlement in a lawsuit filed by patients taking the drug. The lawsuit alleges
that patients were overcharged during the 1990s, paying as much as two to three times for
Synthroid than the cost of competitive and equivalent drugs.
Click here for more
information on the Synthroid settlement and class action lawsuit