Anne Marie Capati didn't tell her family she was taking potentially dangerous herbal supplements to lose weight. Life was a happy whirlwind for the Manhattan fashion designer and mother of two. Her high blood pressure was under control says her husband, Doug Hanson.
"It was a perfect life, when I look back at 1998. I was in heaven," he said.
On October 1, 1998 Capati collapsed at the Crunch Fitness gym while working out with her personal trainer. She died of a stroke that night, and her husband suffered a second shock. He discovered she had been taking ephedra, an ancient herb and known stimulant.
"The doctor said 'Somebody wrote on the intake sheet that your wife was taking ephedra. Were you aware of that?' And I said, 'I don't know what that is.' Hanson said.
Hanson claims it was only after his wife's death that he learned the trainer had her pumping drugs as well as iron. The trainer's handwritten diet plan urged a variety of herbal supplements including thermadrene, which is loaded with ephedra.
While the label does have some warnings, it doesn't contain the tough language the Food and Drug Administration has been considering for two years: "Taking more than the recommended serving may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure or death."
"Ephedra is a botanical [herb] that needs to be treated with respect." says Tony Young of the American Herbal Products Association. "It's up to the consumer to read the label and to use the product within appropriate limits."
Hanson fears anyone eager to lose weight could suffer as his wife did. That's why he's suing the gym, the trainer and five companies that make and sell the supplements for $40 million, charging them with negligence and wrongful death.
"Ultimately, people like trainers who sort of carry these pseudo-credentials. They shouldn't be recommending these things to people at all," Hanson says.
A spokeswoman for Crunch said the trainer no longer works for them and added that while the gym neither sells nor endorses supplements, it cannot manage the relationship between a trainer and a client.
That is cold comfort for Doug Hanson and his kids.