Three years ago, 26 year-old Kaliah Shaw visited a doctor because she felt depressed. She was prescribed lamotrigine, an anti-seizure drug sold under the brand-name Lamictal.
For the first two weeks, Shaw said everything was fine. Then blisters broke out all over her body. She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and spent 5 weeks in a medically-induced coma while her skin melted off:
I was in excruciating pain. It felt like I was on fire. It essentially causes your body to burn from the inside out and you pretty much just melt.”
Her previously flawless skin is now permanently burned and scarred. She is losing her vision, has no sweat glands, and will never re-grow her fingernails.
Her medical bills have already hit $3.45 million, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf, and costs are expected to rise. The Kahlia Shaw Fund has posted graphic pictures of her battling SJS.
Lawyers say her doctor prescribed Shaw the wrong dose of Lamictal and the pharmacy did not catch the mistake. According to Shaw, “This did not have to happen. This was not just some sort of fluke in my opinion. This happened as a directly result of somebody’s error.”
Lamictal has a “Black Box” warning label about severe rashes that require hospitalization or cause death, including SJS. The risk is about 8-13 cases for every 1,000 adults with mood disorders, usually within the first 2-8 weeks of starting Lamictal, but sometimes later.
Over 5% of patients on Lamictal develop skin rashes that are not SJS, but there is no way to tell the difference in the early stages. Therefore, the drug must be discontinued at the first symptom of a bad reaction.
SJS starts with flu-like symptoms and a painful rash that spreads quickly. Blisters develop and the top layer of skin (epidermis) peels off. SJS may also affect the eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, and lungs. The complications include blindness, infections, organ failure, and death.