Plaintiff in Vioxx trial testifies heart attack left him feeling weak

A postal worker who blames his heart attack on Vioxx took the stand Wednesday in the second product liability trial over the painkiller, describing in emotional testimony how he went from feeling "bulletproof" to unmanly after he was stricken.

Occasionally fighting back tears, Frederick "Mike" Humeston, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he began taking the Merck & Co. drug two months before his Sept. 18, 2001, heart attack.

Merck pulled Vioxx off the market three years later after a study showed it raised the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. Humeston's case is one of about 5,000 product liability lawsuits brought against the drug maker in the United States. Other lawsuits have been filed in Canada, Europe, Brazil, Australia and Israel.

Humeston, a Boise, Idaho, postal worker who was taking Vioxx for lingering pain from a war wound to his knee, testified he had the heart attack as he sat in an easy chair after work eating chocolate chip cookies and drinking milk.

"It's unlike any pain I've ever felt," he testified. "It doesn't back off. I tried to move, shift positions, hoping it would go away."

Humeston, who earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, said he took three aspirins because he'd heard they could prevent heart attacks and had his wife take him to the hospital. Describing his life since then, he fought back tears while describing a loss of stamina that has left him unable to hike, do yard work or tinker with cars.

"I'm not man enough to drag my own bags across the airport," he said when his attorney, Chris Seeger, asked how the heart attack affected his ability to travel. "I was bulletproof before."

On cross-examination, Merck attorney Christy Jones began attempting to show Humeston had a history of heart problems, showing a document that described him as being treated for heart palpitations in 1973 at the Miami Heart Institute.

Meanwhile, Merck lawyers filed a motion requesting a mistrial, citing testimony last Thursday by a plaintiff's witness accused of unfairly inflaming the jury. The motion was filed electronically late Tuesday, but was not received by the office of Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee, who is overseeing the trial, until Wednesday's lunch break. It was unclear when Higbee will rule on the motion.

The start of testimony Wednesday was delayed for nearly two hours while Higbee met in her chambers with some of the attorneys. The substance of that discussion was not disclosed.

Merck shares were up 4 cents at $27.49 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, AP reported.

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