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Nuva Ring Prevents Athlete from Competing in Games

A woman who is considered to be one of the top five skeleton athletes in the nation was denied an opportunity to compete in the Olympic games in Sochi because the birth control device she was using - Nuva Ring - caused her lungs to fill with life-threatening blood clots.

Eyewitness News 3 is reporting on the case of Megan Jones, an army specialist who was expected to qualify for this year's Olympic Games in Sochi when she suddenly started to have difficulty breathing. While training in Utah, her breathing became so bad that she could not even speak in conversation without becoming winded.

Five different doctors were unable to diagnose the cause of her respiratory distress and it wasn't until she went to see a pulmonologist in Connecticut that she learned she was suffering from blood clots in her lungs. Doctors said the clots were from the Nuva Ring birth control device she had begun to use in the summer of 2012 - just 10 days before her breathing problems began.

Nuva Ring, the world's first contraceptive vaginal ring, delivers hormones directly into the bloodstream, stopping ovulation by releasing a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin into the body. This method of delivery causes what experts call hormone "spikes" that make women more susceptible to blood clots.

At present, there are more than 1400 lawsuits pending against Merck Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of NuvaRing, from women who were injured by the drug.

Even more galling is the fact that the FDA knew about the problems with Nuva Ring. An FDA-funded study released in 2011, which looked at more than 800,000 women using some form of birth control between 2001 and 2008, found that the risk of developing blood clots for NuvaRing users could increase by as much as 56 percent under some circumstances.

Nuva ringA year later, a Danish study examined more than 1.6 million women and found that those using a vaginal ring had a 6.5 times increased risk of developing VTE. One of the researchers in this study, Dr. Ojvind Lidegaard, was responsible for forcing a label change on Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills against which there are more than 12,000 injury lawsuits pending.

Sadly, Jones became one of those statistics. "They just said multiple blood clots in both lungs," she told Eyewitness News. "It looks like if you took paint and splattered it like that, there were just blood clots everywhere."

She was rushed to the nearest emergency room and spent the next 10 days in the hospital. It was during this time that her Olympic dreams - and her dreams of one day becoming a mother - were destroyed. Not only would she have to miss a critical year of training for the Olympics, which would effectively eliminate her from the 2014 skeleton team, she was also told that there would be long-term damage from the drug.

"If I were to have a family, I'm a high risk pregnancy," she said. "The danger of me having blood clots and even the fetus is there, and that's kind of scary to think about."

When Eyewitness News contacted Merck, the company stood by the safety of its device.

"While there is a very small risk of a blood clot when using NuvaRing or any combined hormonal contraceptive, this risk is much less than the risk of blood clots during pregnancy and the immediate post-partum period," the company said in a statement.

Jones said the doctor who prescribed NuvaRing informed her about the risks, but because she doesn't smoke and is an Olympic-class athlete, she didn't worry about it.

"I'm extremely fit," she said. "I eat well, healthy. It did not cause me any alarm whatsoever."

Now she knows the truth - the risk of clots is much more significant than the company admits. As a result, she has joined the 3,800 people who are part of lawsuit against Merck for damages caused by NuvaRing. Just last week, Merck announced it was willing to pay $100 million to settle the claims but 95 percent of the women involved in the suit must accept the deal first.

As for Henry, she plans on competing for a spot on the 2018 Olympic team but will also fight on behalf of women who need to know how dangerous this drug is.

"I had to see five doctors," Henry said, "and If I listened to the first one I may not be here to tell my story."

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