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Interview With Irena Medavoy

Aired August 4, 2003 - 20:32   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Botox gets its name from botulinum toxin. It is a protein complex produced by bacteria that can cause food poisoning or, if injected in small amounts, can smooth out wrinkles. It is approved by the FDA for certain uses and used by an estimated two million people. But its uses may be more than cosmetic. Doctors are studying to see whether botox helps relieve chronic pain, including migraine headaches, tennis elbow, even painful sex.
But Irena Medavoy says botox is not a cure-all. She tried it for her headaches and says the results have been disastrous. She joins us from Los Angeles to tell us more about it.

Good morning. Or good evening. Thanks for joining us.


ZAHN: So Irena, as I understand it, the first couple of times you tried botox, you had no problem?

MEDAVOY: Yes. I did it for cosmetic use in the beginning, and I didn't have any problem at all. It was something that everyone was doing. And you know, a little bit of collagen, a little bit of botox -- there we go.

ZAHN: And at what point did you feel any adverse effect from botox?

MEDAVOY: I had migraine treatments three times. And on the third time, which was March 4, 2002, about a year-and-a-half ago, I received a botox treatment from my doctor. I was shot in the back of my neck, shot all around. I was shot in 86 units, which, as you know, there's only 20 units that are approved for FDA cosmetic use. I didn't have any informed consent regarding this was an experimental procedure. I wasn't aware that it wasn't approved for migraine use. And I was making out my will a couple of weeks later. I thought I wasn't going make it.

ZAHN: Why? How bad did things get? What were you feeling?

MEDAVOY: Well, I can tell you that I've -- I had such muscle weakness, I couldn't hold my head up. It was like a bowling ball on a pin. I had problems breathing. I had problems -- dysphasia (ph). I wound up in the emergency room. I was supposed to actually shoot a show with my partner, Cynthia Yorkin (ph), for Saturday. I had called my doctor and said, This is really terrible. I have a migraine, but it's not like a migraine. I thought I was having a stroke. And he said, It will be two to four days. It won't be responsive to medication. I went to see my neurologist. He said, This is from botox. We have to watch you. You're having a severe reaction.

ZAHN: So...


ZAHN: Yes. Carry on. And then I want to ask another question.

MEDAVOY: And basically, what -- to tell you, I lost a year might have life. I had one headache, and it was a tension headache that lasted for four months. I lost 22 pounds. I couldn't wash myself. I couldn't wash my hair. I couldn't play with my son. I -- let's put it this way, I am suing so this won't happen to other people, and if they do take botox, they're aware that there are real risks. I'm not the only one. They have about a thousand people in the FDA with these kind of side effects. We believe there's even more that have been reported to Allergen (ph). I'm not an isolated incident. I have 60 people who've contacted me with the exact same thing. There is two mothers in my school. I had a phone call on Thursday from a junior agent that was in the emergency room having a severe reaction from botox.

I want women to understand one thing. This is not like lipstick and mascara. This is a serious neurotoxin. And I'm sure there are people out there that get great benefits from botox. Maybe they have a spastic eye or cervical dystonia (ph). I don't know. But I do know that I've been contacted by a daughter whose father died five months after using botox. And he was shot in the back of the neck, where I was.

ZAHN: Let's come back to your case for a moment.


ZAHN: Since you've gone public with this, you've probably read some pretty unpleasant things that have been written about you. You've read what the attorneys for your doctors have basically said, which is that there is no connection between your botox use and what you're feeling. And then even the manufacturer of botox didn't give us a specific response, due to what they said was lack of preparation of time, but essentially, you've heard the argument that there's no conclusion you can draw that what you experienced was as a result of botox. Just a final word on that tonight.

MEDAVOY: Well, I think what's very important is how they lie. And an example of that is the last time I went on a show, on "Dateline," one of the attorneys went on air and looked Maria Shriver into the eye and said, I saw Irena Medavoy one month after her botox injections, and she looked healthy and wonderful at the Coach for Kids (ph) ball. And you know what? I was in the emergency room the second time with morphine. That ball was three weeks prior, February 13. It's a Valentine's Day ball, that I chair. This is how they lie.

And Allergen, the company, has been misrepresenting the safety record of this product. And I am suing not just for myself, I am suing so this company will listen to the FDA, will listen to consumers and say, You know what? We're sorry. These things can happen. We're going to make sure that everybody who takes our product will know that there are serious side effects to this.

ZAHN: All right, Irena, we've got to move on and hear the other side of the story here. We appreciate your sharing yours with us this evening and hope you continue to get stronger. Thanks for joining us tonight.

MEDAVOY: Thank you very much, Paula.

ZAHN: And CNN did get in touch with the attorney for Dr. Arnold Klein (ph), the doctor that Miss Medavoy was talking about, that gave us this statement. "Unfortunately, Mrs. Medavoy continually attempts to make her case, in which she is suing for millions of dollars, by using the media as her public relations vehicle. I do not believe there will be any evidence connecting Mrs. Medavoy's alleged illness to botox or treatment by Dr. Klein, her doctor for 23 years."

We also contacted Allergen, the manufacturer of botox, but the company was unable to provide with us a response due to a lack of time. However, according to a statement made by a company spokeswoman to "Vanity Fair" magazine, "The persistent conditions which Mrs. Medavoy is claiming are completely inconsistent with our 20-year safety profile. We've never had any report of chronic and persistent condition. Botox has been used in millions of people, so we feel very strongly about it."


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