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Life of Giving Ends in Research Program

She was determined to help.

That’s how family and friends remember Audrey LaRue Jones.

She prepared meals on Saturdays for those who couldn’t. She taught Sunday school at the Methodist church. She worked with a local foundation to give canned goods to the needy.

In one of America’s most desperately poor cities, where storefronts routinely stand boarded, she taught high school English--and loved it.

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“She’d take in anybody; she loved to do for people,” says her husband of 29 years, Elmer D. Jones, an elementary school principal. “It was never about her.”

When three of her students died in gang violence, she attended their funerals. She called their mothers.

To this day, Elmer recalls, people pay respect. “They talk about how she’d push ‘em, push ‘em, push ‘em, to read, to write. Just aggravate the daylights out of ‘em.”

And every year, Audrey would go to the nearby Schnook’s supermarket, collecting money for the juvenile diabetes foundation. She felt a special bond: The Joneses’ son, Curtis, was found to have diabetes when he was just 2 months old. The family knew well his dependence on daily insulin shots.

So it came as no surprise when Audrey signed up for the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a nationwide research project. One of the research centers was just over the Mississippi River in St. Louis, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“She thought she was doing the right thing,” says the couple’s daughter, Kimberly A. Jones, 24, who teaches second grade.

Audrey Jones was one of 4,000 volunteers recruited for the $150-million program, overseen by the government’s National Institutes of Health. The project tested whether certain drugs or diet and exercise could prevent adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes.

Audrey began taking the pills in the late summer of 1997.

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At the start, she appeared robust. She was taking no other medication, according to the family. When they took morning walks, Kimberly says, her mother wore proudly the sweatshirt with the red, teal and blue “DPP” logo.

Because of strict secrecy imposed on the research, Audrey was not told if she was taking a placebo or one of the two drugs being tested: Glucophage and Rezulin. As the family would learn months later, Audrey was taking Rezulin.

The first signs of trouble emerged in April, according to Kimberly: “She was really tired, throwing up. She couldn’t keep anything on her stomach.”

Still, Audrey pushed on; neither she nor her family suspected anything serious.

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But on Saturday night, April 25, the vomiting worsened. The next morning, Kimberly told her mother that there was no use going to church. They drove to Barnes-Jewish.

“They asked her what she had been taking,” Kimberly recalled. “She just told them she was in the Diabetes Prevention Program. . . . She said she was getting sick and didn’t know why.”

Kimberly says her mother was advised to go home, rest and make an appointment with her personal physician. Audrey saw her doctor on Thursday, April 30.

“On Saturday morning, he called her and told her to admit herself to the hospital,” Kimberly says.

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Tests had shown that the once-healthy woman was suddenly very sick. “Some kind of test showed what he thought was hepatitis,” Kimberly says.

The doctor advised her mother to return at once to the hospital.

Over the next week, the family expected she would return to normal. “Co-workers were calling. She said, ‘I’m coming back to work. I’m getting ready, I’m coming home,’ ” Kimberly says.

But on Thursday, May 14, concerns heightened. When Kimberly called her mother at lunchtime, Audrey was agitated; she didn’t grasp what Kimberly was saying. Audrey, now in intensive care, was jaundiced and confused. Doctors asked her the names of presidents, the day of the week.

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Her eyes, Kimberly says, “were yellower than they had been.”

By day’s end, a doctor informed Kimberly that her mother was “deteriorating” and might require a liver transplant. That night, Kimberly and Audrey had their last conversation.

“She told me to get her paycheck and to take her students’ grades to the principal’s office. It was the end of the quarter.”

When Kimberly arrived the next day, her mother was unconscious. “They said she was on life support,” Kimberly says, breaking down at the memory.

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Surgeons at Barnes-Jewish told Elmer Jones his wife was first in line for a transplant. That night, a liver became available.

Surgery began before midnight and ended about 7:45 a.m. Saturday. At some point, her kidneys failed too.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, May 17, Audrey Jones--born in Kosciusko, Miss., a woman who implored the youth of a beleaguered city to never give up--died at age 55.

According to the death certificate, the “underlying cause” was sudden liver failure, which triggered “multiple organ system failure” and abnormal blood clotting within her intestines.

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On June 4, the National Institutes of Health acknowledged the death and banished Rezulin from the Diabetes Prevention Program.

In a pamphlet to mourners, Kimberly and Curtis cited their mother’s participation as proof of how she “devoted her life serving in any voluntary capacity.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Audrey LaRue Jones

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Age: 55

Hometown: East St. Louis, Ill.

Occupation: High school teacher

Rezulin use: About 9 months

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Outcome: Died May 17

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A Rapid Descent

Audrey L. Jones appeared to be in good health before she began suffering problems earlier this year while taking Rezulin as part of a research study:

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March: Jones reports for a scheduled monthly evaluation of her liver functions. The tests find no cause for alarm.

April: Tired and vomiting, Jones stops taking Rezulin.

April 26: Jones is hospitalized. Emergency room doctors do not provide a diagnosis of her condition.

May 2: Test show that Jones has hepatitis. She is readmitted to the hospital.

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May 14: Now in intensive care, Jones is jaundiced and confused--signs of liver failure.

May 15: Jones’ liver failure cannot be reversed. She is unconscious and on life support.

May 16: Jones has a liver transplant, but her kidneys fail.

May 17: Jones dies. According to the death certificate, the “underlying cause” was sudden liver failure.

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Researched by JANET LUNDBLAD / Los Angeles Times

Sources: Interviews, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and Missouri Department of Health


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