How direct-to- consumer advertising, corporate malfeasance, and conflicts of interest at the FDA have given rise to a false sense of security for women who use some forms of hormonal birth control.
“By the time you receive this note I will have joined Erika,” a letter obtained by the Durango Herald reads. “I consider it an honor to give my life to help save the lives of others.”
There’s a video, made last summer, in which 56 year old Karen Langhart approaches a podium in a conference room in San Antonio, Texas. She takes the microphone and, with a heavy sigh, faces the audience. She drops her hands to the edges of the lectern, takes a deep breath and lets it go. It is clear that what she is doing is an effort, and that she has done it many times before. She is weary – very weary – and you can tell that she is willing herself to go on. She raises her eyes from her notes and looks out at the room, sweeps her blonde hair behind her ears and puts her reading glasses on.
She sighs heavily again and sets a grim smile.
She thanks her hosts and says that she and her husband cannot convey how much they appreciate that the film which is about to premier is dedicated “to my beloved daughter Erika and all of the other women who have lost their lives to these dangerous drugs.” She is all but crying; not actually crying because she is all cried out and has been for a long, long time.
The independent film, Natural Love Stories, is about alternatives to hormonal contraception. It was dedicated to Erika Langhart because she died at the age of 24 from massive pulmonary embolisms. In November 2011, a blood clot traveled from Erika’s leg to her lungs and cut off the blood supply, causing a series of cardiac arrests that left her brain-dead by the time her parents made it to the hospital. The doctor told them that she died because of a contraceptive she was using called NuvaRing.
Karen Langhart has told the story so many times to so many audiences since then that you’d think the rawness of it would subside. But it never did, it got worse with each telling and you can see from the video that this woman is coming apart, disintegrating before your eyes.
Without grasping the irony, Karen tells her audience that her daughter’s spirit was best captured in the Durango High School Yearbook dedication, which urged graduates to “Care more than others think wise, risk more than others think safe…”
Risk and safety, our perceptions of it as consumers, are at the core of this American family tragedy.