UC Regents & UCLA Doctor Sued for Wrongful Death of Maria Isabella Steele
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys Brian Panish, Pete Kaufman and Whitney Smith have filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of decedent’s husband Ashley Steele, seeking to hold UC Regents and Dr. Patrick Yaffee accountable for their negligent, careless, and unskillful management of Maria Isabella “Izzy” Steele’s medical condition and the over-prescription of Atorvastatin, a generic for Lipitor that resulted in the 33-year-old Winnetka woman’s tragic death.
Izzy died from liver failure on February 2, 2019 as a result of drug-induced hepatitis caused by Atorvastatin — less than four weeks after starting the medication prescribed to her by Dr. Yaffee.
“A loss of this magnitude is made even more severe by knowing that it was preventable,” said Ashley Steele, Izzy’s husband. “My legal action does not stem from a delusion that such a devastating loss can be righted. It cannot and I know that. My mission is to hold those responsible for Izzy’s death fully accountable, to bring truth to light in the hope that no one else will needlessly endure what my wife suffered and to fulfill a silent promise that justice for Izzy will prevail.”
As alleged in the complaint, Izzy met with Dr. Yaffee at UCLA Health, Jack Skirball Health Center on Friday, January 4, 2019 and had blood drawn as part of her annual physical. The following Monday, Dr. Yaffee called Izzy stating that her cholesterol levels were higher than the standard range and that he’d prescribed a two-month supply of Atorvastatin at the 80 mg dosage – the highest dosage available and between 4 to 8 times the recommended starting dose from the manufacturer. The doctor didn’t provide Izzy with any warnings of potential side effects of the drug, or warn her to stop taking the medication if she began experiencing any of the known side effects including muscle aches and pains, which can be a harbinger for more serious side effects, such as liver failure.
Within a few weeks of taking Atorvastatin, the 33-year-old woman known as “Mighty Mouse” at her gym due to her size and strength, began experiencing fatigue and other symptoms. Concerned that her symptoms were related to taking the medication, Izzy reached out to Dr. Yaffee on January 25th through the myUCLAhealth online portal and contacted UCLA Health to request a liver panel. UCLA denied her request and she was instructed by Dr. Yaffee to continue taking the medication. As her symptoms persisted, she contacted UCLA once again on January 28th, to request a liver panel. Dr. Yaffee authorized the test and left a voicemail the following day, explaining her results showed “increased enzymes for liver probably related to the Lipitor” and suggested she stop taking the medication, give it time to wash out of her system and follow up with a cardiologist and cholesterol specialist to see what next steps need to be taken. With Izzy in pain, severely fatigued, and unable to walk – Ashley carried her into West Hills Hospital emergency room that same day. She remained in the ICU before being transported on January 31st to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and placed on a liver transplant list. Izzy died on February 2 from liver failure as a result of drug-induced hepatitis caused by Atorvastatin and was laid to rest on Valentine’s Day.
“Izzy was the love and light of my life. She was loving, entirely selfless, brilliant, and possessed an insuppressible energy — she used these qualities in ways that uniquely illuminated the lives of others,” said Ashley. “I now live in darkness. The light of my life, extinguished. Izzy had a joyful and purposeful lifetime. It was, however, a life tragically and needlessly abbreviated due to an indefensible dereliction.”
Ashley and Izzy were college sweethearts, ’08 graduates of Pepperdine University, who married and settled down in Winnetka, California with their dog Cami to pursue their individual careers – Izzy as an appraiser and financial analyst and Ashley as an editor for Wolf Films, working on network television shows such as Law & Order: SVU, Chicago P.D. and F.B.I. “We weaved two lives into one perfectly whole world,” Ashley said. “She illuminated our life together no more than anyone else’s soul mate does, but most certainly no less – now, my best friend has been taken and is gone forever. Izzy and I will not celebrate the milestones most couples notch along the way. We will not grow a family or attend graduations or plan for holidays or share another sunset. I spent what should have been our 10 year anniversary beside my wife’s grave.”
Izzy was a healthy, young woman who exercised regularly and had been following a ketogenic diet when she first met with Dr. Yaffee. At 92 pounds and 5’1′ tall, she was a non-smoker, had no family history of heart disease, and no traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease when she was prescribed a 80mg dosage of Atorvastatin for her elevated cholesterol levels. Plaintiff alleges that during Izzy’s annual physical, Dr. Yaffee “failed to take a history adequate enough to determine she had been on a ketogenic diet for nearly a year. This information would have provided context for her elevated lipids, and would have suggested the most appropriate, and safest treatment plan; namely, to change her diet.”
“Defendants were negligent, careless and unskillful in their management of decedent’s medical condition, in particular as it relates to the prescribing of Atorvastatin: (1) in the failure to determine whether there was any indication for the drug; (2) in the failure to determine whether there was any indication for a starting dose in excess of the maximum recommended starting dose; (3) in the failure to obtain an adequate history of Isabella; (4) in the failure to warn of the risks associated with the use of the drug; (5) in the failure instruct Isabella to immediately stop taking the drug when she reported symptoms; and, (6) in the failure to order appropriate blood tests as soon as she reported symptoms consistent with a serious adverse reaction.”
Plaintiff seeks judgment against the defendants for medical, incidental, hospital and service expenses as well as loss of future income, general damages and other relief deemed just and proper by the court.