HEART OF THE MATTER
By DAVID BANCROFT
AT 8.30am on August 16, 2004, respected businessman Johnno Johnson locked the door of his Maclean home for what he thought would be the last time.
He said goodbye to his home, his business and all the things that had become familiar throughout his life.
He was going to St Vincent's Hospital in Lismore, fully believing he was going to die.
It was a view he claims was shared by his general practitioners and specialists, and by his extensive group of friends, many of whom have since told him they were looking for his death notice daily.
He is alive now and 'getting a day younger every day' not through medical intervention, but through a snap decision to stop taking some of his medication.
That decision was based on a conversation he overheard between a patient in the next bed and his specialist. And it led to Johnno slipping the world's most prescribed medication, Lipitor, into his pocket and quietly flushing it down the toilet when there was no-one around.
"I have no doubt that decision saved my life," he said.
Johnno was prescribed Lipitor about seven years ago after he had had four heart bypasses.
"Within three months I started to get aching muscles and within
n Continued: P3.
n Editorial: P6.
12 months my muscles started disappearing," he said.
"I kept getting weaker until they decided to operate to find out if I had a rare muscle disease.
"That was about six years ago. But the biopsy proved nothing. Over the next couple of years I got so sick that I couldn't drive. That lasted about two years.
"I was starting to turn into a zombie.
"I couldn't mow my lawns, do any gardening ... I couldn't do anything.
"It was just a matter of laying back in my chair.
"I was going to doctors every few weeks and kept getting referred to specialists.
"I kept having all these tests, but they couldn't find anything wrong."
Johnno had been in St Vincent's Hospital for about 10 days when he overheard the conversation between the neighbouring patient and his specialist.
He had become so weak that he could no longer walk unassisted. He was in a four-wheel walker, but still needed to be accompanied to the toilet.
"The specialist opened the medications file of the bloke next to me and he said 'I know what is wrong with you' and told him to stop taking Lipitor," he said.
"When I heard that conversation I stopped taking them immediately. Within four or five days I started to feel a bit better. I have been getting better ever since.
"I tell everyone I am getting a day younger every day."
Johnno said he was now driving again, could walk unassisted but could not dig or do any heavy lifting.
He said his general practitioner and one of the specialists he had seen had since agreed that his symptoms were caused by a reaction to Lipitor.
"Just by talking to people I have found 12 to 15 people like me."
He says he is not interested in seeking compensation, of suing pharmaceutical companies or doctors.
"I just don't want anyone else going through what I have been through," he said.
"It took five years of my life away.
"It took my manhood away ... it has taken that away from me.
"I just want to get the message out to people that if they are suffering they should seek medical advice immediately."
Johnno said he believed that Lipitor was highly effective in reducing cholesterol and, for most people, there were minimal or no side effects.
He said that during all his difficulties and countless tests, he received no advice from pharmacists, doctors or specialists about the possible side effects of the drug.
He said that at least the specialists should have known of the risks and tested for the side effects.
He said Lipitor was one of many medications he had been taking. That included two injections and 19 tablets a day. While on that cocktail he claims to have had eight 'major' strokes ? five on the right side of the brain and three on the left.
"From the day I went off Lipitor I have not had a day in hospital and I have not had a stroke since," he said.
nThe Daily Examiner is not advocating that people stop taking medication. They should seek professional medical ad- vice.