Over the phone, Michael Schumacher, 33, has a smooth salesman’s voice, and his intelligence oozes through the receiver. When he opens the door, his eyes are kind, but he is shuffling like an 85-year-old man. Just to get down the stairs to the front door, he uses timed four-minute increments of sitting and standing. His muscles have atrophied under his T-shirt, and his only relief is swimming, where gravity does not affect his pain. All of this from taking a doctor-prescribed antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin.
Schumacher, a Roxborough resident, cannot sit or stand for more than a few minutes at a time.
He said it all began after moving to North Carolina with his then-girlfriend and going to see a doctor for a “weird pain in my groin area.” He was prescribed Ciprofloxacin. Two and a half days later, after taking just five pills, he felt a pop in his groin area.
“I Googled the medication and uncovered a lot of horrific information about this drug and how it can damage tendons. I immediately stopped taking the medication,” Schumacher said. “Later that night, my Achilles tendon started hurting. The day after, my feet started turning purple, and my feet were extremely cold. I started limping around the apartment as if I was 80 years old with constant pain in my feet.”
During a follow-up visit, a doctor attempted to diagnose a torn Achilles tendon.
“I let her squeeze my calves – worst decision I could’ve ever made,” Schumacher said. “I was in horrific pain and felt like my Achilles tendon was now torn.”
Tests and MRIs showed nothing wrong, but the pain was so debilitating he had to go on disability from work in April of 2012. He was confined to bed for 75 percent of the day.
After he tried holistic treatments like acupuncture and change of diet and IV treatments, he was diagnosed with chronic regional pain syndrome and peripheral neuropathy at Mass General Hospital in Boston. He then moved to Philadelphia to be with his twin sister in Roxborough.
He talked to lawyers but was told he could not sue because the medicine included warnings of severe side effects. And no lawyer would take his case against the doctor who prescribed the medicine.
Other patients have sued over the same drug. In July 2016, the FDA sent letters to doctors to stop giving this drug for minor infections after a lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit Public Citizen.
A spokeswoman for the drug’s manufacturer, Bayer, said that fluoroquinolones like Ciprofloxacin (and Moxifloxacin) have been taken by more than 800 million patients worldwide since 1987. They “are well-tolerated and effective in all approved indications when used in accordance with current product labeling. Both medicines have a favorable benefit-risk profile in all approved indications,” she said.
But for Schumacher, his life may never be the same again.
“I would advise anybody who has something minor like a sinus infection to ask the doctor for an antibiotic that is not incredibly strong and potent,” Schumacher said. “I would also advise to Google the drug and check for any black box warning. … If I saw the black box warning for serious tendon injury, I would not have taken the drug.”