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Widow Testifies In Vioxx Trial

GENERIC Merck Vioxx trial gavel
AP / ABC News
The widow of a man whose death is at the center of the country's first Vioxx-related civil trial told jurors Thursday that she struggles with guilt because she suggested her husband ask his doctor about the painkiller when they saw ads for it on television.

"I feel very guilty at times," a soft-spoken Carol Ernst testified about her husband, Robert Ernst, who took Vioxx for eight months to relieve pain in his hands before he died in his sleep next to her.

"I feel like if Bob had never met me, he might still be alive because I was the one who told him to ask about the Vioxx," she said.

Carol Ernst, 60, is the plaintiff in the case alleging that Vioxx caused her husband's 2001 death. Robert Ernst's autopsy report says he died from an arrhythmia — or an irregular heartbeat secondary to clogged arteries. Carol Ernst and her lawyer, Mark Lanier, allege a Vioxx-induced blood clot and heart attack caused those conditions.

Vioxx-maker Merck & Co. took the multibillion-dollar selling drug off the market last year when a study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken 18 months or longer. But the company has relied heavily on the autopsy report in the Ernst case, saying no studies link Vioxx to arrhythmia so the drug couldn't have caused Robert Ernst's death.

The coroner who wrote the report testified last week that Ernst more than likely died of a heart attack, but his death was too sudden for his heart to show damage.