June 3, 2011— -- When 3-year-old Brianna Maya began to cough and run a temperature on a Saturday night in November 2000, her parents followed their pediatrician's advice for any fever higher than 101.5, and gave her alternating doses of Children's Motrin and Children's Tylenol every three hours.
Over the next few days, a fine rash on her body and mild redness around her eyes morphed into something insidious: a rare, painful and potentially fatal skin reaction that burned and blistered her body inside and out, blinded her in one eye and left her fighting for her life in a burn unit 1,000 miles from home.
"It was like something you see in a science fiction movie," said her mother, Alicia E. Maya Donaldson, 34, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Tennessee at Martin, as she recalled how her daughter looked at the time.
Doctors at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, Texas, concluded that Brianna's reaction was triggered by Children's Motrin, a brand of the popular anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.
"I was astounded," Donaldson told ABCNews.com. "They were telling me it was caused by this medication that her doctor told me I should give her to make her feel better and treat a fever. I know that there's a danger with any drug, but when you think of an over-the-counter medication, you always think of them being the safer ones because you don't need a prescription. You just go to CVS or Walmart or Rite Aid, and pick one off the shelf."
On May 24, a jury in Philadelphia ordered the drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare, to pay Brianna's family $10 million for her injuries and for failing to adequately warn consumers about the toxic skin reaction she suffered.
In 2000, the label that her mother read on the Children's Motrin package made no mention of Brianna's diagnoses, Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome (Tens). Stevens-Johnson blisters and breaks down the mucus membranes of the cornea, mouth, rectum, vagina and urethra. Tens, a more severe form, affects a greater percentage of the skin and mucus membranes.
Stevens-Johnson and Tens are variously estimated to affect from one in a million to eight in a million people.
Brianna, now 13, has spent the last decade living the painful aftermath of SJS/Tens: She has undergone repeated eye surgeries and suffered recurrent eye and lung infections. Last summer, she developed seizures stemming from oxygen-deprivation during the worst of her illness. One of the ironies is that doctors have had difficulty controlling her seizures because anti-seizure drugs can trigger Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Because of vaginal scarring, "she will never be able to have normal sexual relations or bear children," her mother said.
"While we are sympathetic to the pain and hardships suffered by Brianna Maya and her family, McNeil-PPC Inc. strongly disagrees with the verdict, and we are considering legal options," said Marc Boston, a company spokesman. Children's Motrin is "safe and effective ... when used as directed," he said.