A woman from Florida, Clara Oliva, aged 68, has taken legal action against Global Pharma Healthcare, the manufacturer of EzriCare Artificial Tears. The eye drops were recalled after they were discovered to be contaminated. Oliva claimed that they left her legally blind.
She is also seeking damages from the medical center that prescribed the artificial tears and her insurer
Oliva is one of at least 68 Americans who were affected after using the contaminated eye drops, which led to the development of infections caused by drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an aggressive bacterium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the latest update from the CDC, published on Tuesday, three individuals died due to the outbreak. Eight experienced vision loss, and four underwent surgery to remove their eyeballs. Clara Oliva, who had been using eye drops for several years to treat dry eyes caused by contact lenses, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit reviewed by ABC News.
The lawsuit states that in May 2022, Oliva was informed by her insurer that the authorized eye drops had changed. Consequently, her regular clinic, Leon Medical Centers in Miami, prescribed her EzriCare Artificial Tears.
Following her lawsuit, Oliva did not experience any issues until early August 2022
She reported that her right eye suddenly became red, swollen, and excessively watery. Following an examination by an ophthalmologist at Leon Medical Centers, Oliva was informed that she likely had a corneal scratch. This type of abrasion affects the cornea or the clear, protective covering located at the front of the eye.
Oliva was provided with numerous medications. But according to her claims, they did not alleviate her symptoms and her condition deteriorated. As a result, she visited the emergency room at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami a few days later.
“The pain that I felt was like shards of glass that would move within the eye and it was extraordinarily painful.” Oliva told ABC News through her attorney, Natasha Cortes. According to the lawsuit, doctors initially suspected that Oliva had a fungal infection. But a biopsy of her eye revealed that she had an infection caused by P. aeruginosa.
This type of bacteria is commonly found in the environment, such as in water or soil, and P. aeruginosa is known to cause infections in humans. Typically, outbreaks caused by this bacterium occur in hospitals and nursing homes. According to Oliva, her doctors suspected that her contact lenses might have been the source of the infection. But she did not agree with their assessment.
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Olivia subsequently lost her eyes because of the artificial tears
“I had been using contact lenses for 30 years without any issue and I was always meticulous in my care.” She said. “Eventually, they told me that they just didn’t know what it was that had occurred. I was never satisfied with those answers.”
According to the lawsuit, surgeons tried to repair Oliva’s damaged cornea by removing it and replacing it with donor tissue. However, the surgery was stopped midway due to the discovery of more severe damage, and the cornea could not be safely removed. As a result, doctors concluded that removing her eye was the only option.
Despite Oliva’s pleas to save her eye, her medical team was concerned that the drug-resistant bacteria could spread if they didn’t act quickly. “On September 1, 2022, Mrs. Oliva’s right eye was surgically removed and replaced with a plastic implant,” the lawsuit reads. “Given her decreased visual acuity of 20/200 in her remaining left eye, Mrs. Oliva is now legally blind.”
According to the lawsuit, Oliva continued using EzriCare drops on her left eye until January, when Leon Medical Centers called and informed her to stop using the drops as they had been recalled, without giving any further explanation.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration, supported by the CDC, issued a warning advising health care providers and the general public against purchasing EzriCare Artificial Tears or Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears due to the possibility of bacterial contamination.
A recall has since been issued
Global Pharma Healthcare voluntarily recalled both EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears, informing distributors and advising wholesalers, retailers, and customers who have the products to discontinue usage, according to reports. Despite ABC News’ request for comment, the company did not respond.
However, EzriCare issued a statement in early February, stating that they had first learned of the ongoing CDC investigation in January and were collaborating with officials. “As of today, we are not aware of any testing that definitively links the Pseudomonas aeruginosa outbreak to EzriCare Artificial Tears,” the statement read.
“Nonetheless, we immediately took action to stop any further distribution or sale of EzriCare Artificial Tears. To the greatest extent possible, we have been contacting customers to advise them against the continued use of the product. We also immediately reached out to both CDC and FDA and indicated our willingness to cooperate with any requests they may have of us.” They continued.
Olvia found out about the reasoning behind the recall while watching television with her family
“I had conflicting emotions,” she said. “I knew now what had caused all my symptoms and the ordeal that I had gone through but, at the same time, I felt horrible and horrific that these companies could allow this to happen to me and others.” Simply put, there has to be justice.
The lawsuit against Global Pharma Healthcare includes multiple allegations, such as negligence and strict liability, which means the defendant is responsible for their actions regardless of their intentions. Oliva is seeking damages for her medical expenses and other losses, although the lawsuit did not specify a particular amount.
Since losing her right eye, Oliva’s life has been significantly impacted, according to the lawsuit. She has had to relearn how to walk, her depth perception has decreased, and she can only drive short distances. Additionally, she has been receiving psychiatric and psychological treatment for depression.
“They don’t realize the damages that they have caused to me and to others who have been damaged,” she said. “Due to their irresponsibility, their negligence, and their incompetence, they’ve caused not only deaths, but they’ve affected my life and its entirety and my ability to be independent and live a normal life and there has to be justice.”
Leon Medical Centers expressed their sympathy for Oliva’s situation in a statement provided to ABC News
“Upon learning of the advisory from the CDC in January, Leon Medical Centers immediately began proactively reaching out to its patients that may have received Ezri Care artificial tears and instructed them to discontinue the use of the product and return or discard it,” the statement said
“We will continue cooperating with and monitoring the public health authorities regarding their multistate inquiry into this matter and will provide additional information to our patients as necessary.” Let’s just hope that this sort of issue gets resolved a lot more effectively in the future.
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- “Florida woman files lawsuit after infected drops allegedly led to loss of her eye.” ABC News. Mary Kekatos. March 24, 2023
- “‘I want justice’: Woman who lost her eye to infection sues recalled eyedrop maker EzriCare.” USA Today. Orlando Mayorquin. March 23, 2023
- “Eye drops nightmare: South Florida woman loses eye after using artificial tears.” Fox13 News. Aaron Mesmer. March 23, 2023