Dennis Quaid Defends Lawsuit Against Heparin Maker

Actor Dennis Quaid told Congress Wednesday that the near-fatal overdose of Heparin given to his newborn twins last November underscores the need to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable through lawsuits, a remedy that is becoming increasingly problematic for injured consumers.

At issue before the House Reform and Government Oversight Committee is a move by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to step in and defend the pharmaceutical companies against such lawsuits.

Click here for more on the Congressional hearings.

Quaid’s twins were hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles last year for treatment for a staph infection. While under the hospital's care, they were given an overdose of the blood thinner Heparin.

It wasn't the first time such a mistake had been made. In 2006, six newborns at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis were given an overdose of the same blood-thinning drug and three died.

Quaids twins, Zoe Grace and Thomas Boone, recovered from the overdose — they were given 10,000 units of Heparin, rather than the 10 units they were supposed to get.

Alice Garner, associate neonatologist at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., told in November that all premature babies get Heparin in their IV catheters to prevent clotting.

"Heparin is used because the IV lines are so tiny," she said. "It’s necessary for the babies to survive."

Garner said an overdose of drug can be devastating causing babies to bleed out from multiple areas in the body.

“If they get a large dose, they may bleed because their body is not going to be able to clot and this can cause all kinds of problems,” she said. “It's really devastating if you bleed in your brain. You can also bleed in your lungs, in your GI tract, you can bleed anywhere."

Garner said the mistake may have occurred because hospital pharmacies often stock adult and infant doses of medications, including Heparin.

"The error could occur at any stage," she said. "Some places have a pharmacy that prepares the IV fluids. Other places, the nurses do it. So it just depends on who prepares the IV fluids."

Garner said hospitals must work to eliminate mistakes, especially those involving the tiniest of patients.

"You have to try to have the right vials in the right areas so that mistake doesn't happen," she said. "Especially with newborns, it's extremely important because adult doses are so much higher."

Hospital errors do not just affect infants. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimates that about 1.5 million patients are victims of hospital errors each year.