02/26/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
In the summer of 1995, when her volleyball team lost a game at the annual Plumbers Union picnic in Eklutna, Alaska, Rosalie Talbert called for a rematch. But first Talbert, then 34, and her sister Michelle Sommerville sat down to take their daily diet tonic. Both battling their weight, they carefully measured 10 drops of the diet supplement AMP II Pro into their diet sodas. "Whenever we were together, we'd do our drops together," says Sommerville, 36. "We were told it worked best with caffeine."
What they weren't told was that AMP II Pro was laced with ephedrine, a substance linked to insomnia, nervousness and even seizures. Within minutes Talbert was having trouble walking. Her left side grew numb as her family sped her to the hospital, where they would learn she had suffered a severe stroke. "I didn't have a clue what was happening," recalls Talbert. "I was scared that I was dying."
In the first U.S. trial of a maker of ephedrine products, an Anchorage jury early this month ordered E'Ola International of St. George, Utah, to pay Talbert $13.3 million in damages because the company had knowingly marketed a dangerous substance. E'Ola had not changed its formula even though the FDA had warned the company several times that AMP II Pro was connected to heart attacks and strokes.
A mother of four, Talbert worked as a credit official at a utility company and was a seamstress who showed off her work at a local bazaar. Today, she has trouble finding words to express herself, and she cannot sew or take the long drives she once loved. Her husband, Daniel, 36, a pipe fitter, laments that companies such as E'Ola, which plans to appeal the case, continue to market popular products with ephedrine because federal agencies are limited in their ability to regulate diet supplements. "How many more Rosies will it take," he asks, "for people to do something to stop this?"