Our aim is to help young women become advocates for their own reproductive health by teaching them about the risks and benefits of their contraceptive options in addition to promoting a non-judgmental dialogue about birth control for both men and women.
The "Letters to Annie" project seeks to help women choose safer birth control by raising awareness of the risks of Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz, and other similar birth control pills, and serves as a tribute to the life of Annie Ammons, who died suddenly in her sleep.
By Diana Zuckerman, PhD
There’s a new mystery unfolding online, and reading it could save your life or the life of someone you know.
A series of posts on Letters to Annie start with a mother reminiscing in a letter to her daughter, Annie Ammons. At the end of the first letter, her mom says, “If only I hadn’t come home that Saturday morning and found you unresponsive in your bed. If only it hadn’t come—that day that changed our lives.”
Annie was young, athletic, a physical trainer, and a new lawyer. She ate healthy foods and lived a healthy life. But she started having symptoms that her doctors couldn’t figure out—hair loss, unexplained weight gain, and severe headaches. Then suddenly, she died in her sleep. Her devastated family was left trying to figure out what had happened. At the same time, family members had to deal with police suspicions that perhaps someone in the family had murdered her.
Eventually, Annie’s family found out what killed her, and was devastated anew to realize it was completely preventable and that her doctors should have recognized the cause—which would have saved Annie’s life. But knowing the cause of her death and getting doctors and federal officials to do something about it were two very different things. When Annie’s family asked for my help, I thought raising awareness at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in Congress would be easy—I’ve worked on similar issues for more than 20 years. How wrong I was.
We reached out to a well-respected member of the Senate who was known for her commitment to women’s health. She was the perfect choice because the Ammons family lived in her state. Her staff expressed sympathy, but responded by doing the minimum—a letter to the FDA commissioner that asked questions but did not demand any changes that would save lives.
We reached out to the highest-level FDA officials, who were already well aware of the risks of the FDA-approved medication that killed Annie. They had already made up their minds to do almost nothing, and continued on that path of indifference.
I worked with a physician to write an article for an ob-gyn medical journal, to help educate doctors about the risks of a medication that they widely prescribe. I’ve published many articles in well-respected medical journals, but this one received condescending reviews from physicians who seemed more interested in defending a product they prescribe than in saving the lives of their patients.
We reached out to reporters, and several wrote excellent articles. But somehow the story and the issue never got much attention.
Annie’s family members were horrified at the indifference they (and we) met at almost every step of the way. But they refused to give up—they are determined that Annie’s death should not be in vain and that their efforts should help other young women and other families.
The result is LetterstoAnnie.org.
It starts with the mystery of Annie’s death, with a new letter to Annie every week providing new clues. What will be revealed in the letters to come? One by one, the clues will build up until the family finally finds out what happens. Then, the family will look for the “why” and “how” that can explain the cause. The family will seek help and answers from various government officials, and you will see how those officials responded.
You will be inspired by Annie’s family’s efforts.
And most important, Letters to Annie will provide information that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
What We Learned from Annie's Death
Of all of the healthcare providers that we spoke to after the death of Annie, none of them were willing to tell us why. We have since found out that Annie's fatal heart attack was the result of a blood clot — a well-established risk of her birth control pill, Yaz.
Since her passing, we have advocated to have Yaz taken off the market. We have come to realize the problem is much larger: the need to help women make the best possible birth control choices in the face of so much biased information. Check out the drop down menu above to learn more about Yaz, similar birth controls, and how to become better informed.
Who is the Ammons family? Here's a note from Annie's Mom, Dianne.
Rick and I met as students at the University of Cincinnati in 1966. We married soon after I graduated. While Rick completed his senior year, I taught high school Spanish and French. The next year, Rick became an Ensign in the Navy and so began our whirlwind travels around the world while starting our family. While we were living in Long Beach California, Glenn was born in 1970 and Maryellen in 1972. Anne Louise (known to her family and friends as Annie) began her life at the Naval Academy Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland in l974. Soon we followed Rick to Japan, to Hawaii, to Monterey, California, to Puerto Rico and finally back to the Annapolis area, where our kids completed their teenage years.
We very much wanted and have loved each of our children and tried to raise them the best that we knew how. We have always loved our country and always tried to be good members of our community and to work on behalf of a better world. I was a stay-at-home mom until Annie was in third grade when I restarted my teaching career, this time in elementary school. When Annie was in fifth grade in Puerto Rico her only choice for a reading teacher was me. She and I loved yet hated that arrangement!
It was a big adjustment to move back to the US, but the kids did well. Glenn finished high school and went on to CalTech. Maryellen was her high school senior class president before going to the University of Maryland in College Park. Annie was always the independent thinker – becoming more connected with the social issues of youth, the environment, even becoming a vegetarian for a while. She went to Northland College in Wisconsin because it was an environmental leader. A few years after college, Annie went to law school at American University in Washington, DC, finishing her degree in 2008 and passing the bar the next year. Meanwhile, she worked as a personal trainer in a health and exercise club and then as the librarian for TESST College in Baltimore; her work helped them become reaccredited the week after she died.