Family blames birth control for woman's death

By Matt Porter

September 16, 2013 Updated Sep 17, 2013 at 7:25 PM EDT

Oneonta, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When Claire Sperbeck sat down for breakfast with her 21-year-old daughter Justine on Aug. 28, she expected it to be like any other normal day.

"She came into the kitchen and she said to me my leg is bothering me, I think I pulled a muscle," Claire Sperbeck remembers.

But, her daughter suddenly passed out.

She had a pulmonary embolism, also known as a massive blood clot.

Paramedics were at the house in minutes and brought Justine to the hospital, but she never made it home.

"When I got to the hospital, they were doing CPR and she was gone," Claire Sperbeck said. "In just a matter of minutes, she was gone."

Justine Sperbeck's injury is similar to complaints across the country about a new form of birth control using a patch instead of a pill.

Justine had been using the patch called Ortho Evra made by a subsidiary of the Johnson and Johnson Company.

In 2008, Johnson and Johnson settled several lawsuits for $68 million that claimed the method caused a greater increase in blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

Her sister Melissa Conrad said Justine never had any heart problems, and played sports through high school.

"She wasn't a smoker, she wasn't a drinker," Conrad said. "Very healthy, very active. Never any kinds of surgeries."

Ortho Evra first came onto the market in 2002 and was and is still seen by some as a convenient way of birth control.

Her sisters said Justine wasn't informed about all the risks.

"She wasn't educated enough I believe to know what was going to be the best option," Conrad said.

Doctor Dhruv Agneshwar, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, said all hormone therapies come with a slight risk for strokes and blood clots because of the estrogen and progestin used.

"If they start to develop risk factors for heart disease, than they should talk to their provider about getting off hormone birth control into something else."

Risk factors include increased weight, age, whether someone smokes, and hypertension.

Agneshwar said it's very important the patient and doctor go over all the risks involved with each method before making treatment decision.

He did add all treatments available, including the hormone patch, are government-approved.

"All the birth control methods that are currently on the market are FDA approved and deemed safe," he said.

For the mother who lost her daughter, she just wants other young women to know all the risks.

"She was a hostess at the Neptune Diner," Claire Sperbeck said. "She just loved to talk to people. She would help anyone in anyway that she could."

The FDA and makers of Ortho Evra say the patch therapy is still safe.

However, a new clinical trial is in progress to see if there is any connection with greater increased risks to heart disease or stroke with the Ortho Evra patch.