Husband Sues UC Regents Over Wife's Liver Failure Death

A man whose wife died at age 33 of liver failure is suing the University of California Board of Regents and a UCLA doctor, alleging the woman was overprescribed a statin that caused her death.

Ashley Steele's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit stems from the February death of Maria Isabella Steele, a native of the Philippines who lived in Winnetka. The wrongful death suit filed Friday alleges Dr. Patrick Yaffee did not warn her to be aware of side effects of Atorvastatin, a generic for Lipitor.

"Dr. Yaffee failed to instruct Isabella to stop taking Atorvastatin if she experienced muscle pain and weakness," the suit says. "He failed to warn her that if she continued to take the drug after experiencing side effects that she was risking more serious injury, such as liver failure and death."

The lawsuit includes a photo of Ashley Steele and his late wife, who apparently went by the name Isabella, in evening clothes at an event and described her as a healthy woman who exercised regularly.

A UCLA representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Steele saw Yaffee on Jan. 4 for an annual physical at UCLA Health Woodland Hills and was diagnosed after a blood test that showed higher than normal cholesterol levels, the suit states. Yaffee prescribed her a two-month supply of Atorvastatin at an 80-milligram dosage, the suit states.

"He did not disclose to Isabella that his dosage was between four and eight times higher than the starting dose recommended by the manufacturer," which was 10 to 20 milligrams, the suit states.

By late January, Steele complained of fatigue and other symptoms and said she was concerned they were related to her use of the drug, but Yaffee told her to keep taking the medication and arranged for her to see a cholesterol specialist on Feb. 6, the suit states.

Steele, meanwhile, contacted the UCLA Health Skirball Health Center and asked that a liver panel be performed, but her request was denied by the defendants, the suit states.

Three days later, she again requested a liver panel and Yaffee authorized the test, telling her via a voicemail afterward that the results showed "increased enzymes for liver probably related" to the drug, according to the suit, which says the doctor additionally told Steele to stop taking the medication and to see a cardiologist and cholesterol specialist.

On Jan. 29, Steele was so weak and in so much pain that her husband had to carry her to the emergency room, according to his court papers. She was later flown to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, placed in the cardiac care unit and put on the liver-transplant list, but died on Feb. 2, the suit states.

"Defendants utterly failed to meet the minimum standard of care, beginning with Dr. Yaffee's interaction with Isabella at the physical," the lawsuit alleges.

Had Yaffee taken an adequate history, he could have determined that she had been on a ketogenic diet for nearly a year and that the appropriate way to treat her elevated lipids would have been to change what she was eating, the suit states.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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