Christine Peckham. Retail manager. 53

But within two years of being prescribed Vioxx, Mrs Peckham, then 49, suffered two strokes that have left her almost blind, partially paralysed and epileptic. She is one of hundreds of British patients planning to sue Merck for negligence over the drug.

Mrs Peckham, 53, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, said: "I am very angry and very bitter. The way in which Merck has acted is unforgivable.

"My life has been ruined by this drug and what makes it worse is that Merck knew it was dangerous and could cause these side effects."

Mrs Peckham, who has a grown-up daughter, had suffered from osteoarthritis for some years but none of the painkillers prescribed by her GP had proved effective.

In November 1999, her doctor told her about Vioxx. It had been approved by the Government's regulatory agency five months earlier and was being marketed as a highly effective drug with fewer side effects than older medicines of its type.

"I remember my GP using the words 'wonder drug', although he said them with a signal of inverted commas," said Mrs Peckham. "When I first started taking it, it was marvellous. It helped my pain more than anything else had done."

Everything was fine until September 2001, when Mrs Peckham, who worked in retail management, suffered a stroke. She said: "I had a terrible headache and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning the whole of my left side was numb and the left-hand side of my face had dropped.

"It was horrendous. I went to my GP and he sent me to hospital where they said I had had a stroke. I couldn't believe it, but neither I nor my GP associated it with the Vioxx. So I kept on taking it."

That Christmas, she suffered another stroke, which has left her partially sighted and prone to regular epileptic fits.

She could no longer work and was confined to a wheelchair, but again carried on taking Vioxx for her osteoarthritis.

It was only when Merck announced it was withdrawing the drug in September last year that Mrs Peckham made the link with her strokes and Vioxx.

"The first I knew was when my GP phoned me to tell me that I should stop taking Vioxx immediately," she said. "I asked why and he just said there had been a problem with it.

"My husband, Mark, went on the internet and found out how there were all these concerns about the increased risks of strokes, and then it came out that Merck had known about this before they even brought it out on the market.

"I just couldn't believe they could do such a thing."

She added: "This is not about suing for money. My life has been turned upside down. My parents are in their 80s and I should be looking after them, but when my husband goes out they have to look after me.

"I want to go to court and challenge the people from Merck by saying to them, if your drug is so safe, why am I unable to see, why am I in a wheelchair, why am I epileptic?"