PASADENA, Calif. - A couple is suing a Pasadena fertility clinic over allegations of wrongly transferring an embryo in vitro fertilization (IVF) that had a rare and deadly stomach cancer gene, then provided an altered medical record to conceal its alleged mistake.
When Melissa and Jason Diaz decided to start a family, they were determined not to pass on certain cancer-causing genes that run in their families.
"We wanted our children to not have any worry regarding these types of genetic mutations that we carry, so we tried to do everything in our power to give them a fighting chance at life with a healthy life," Melissa said.
Melissa has the cancer-causing BRCA-1 mutation, and Jason has a rare mutation in the CDH1 gene. In an effort to spare their children and future generations from the risks posed by the genes they carry, they chose to not conceive naturally, but rather to undergo genetic testing and IVF through the Huntington Reproductive Center (HRC) in Pasadena.
But attorneys say Melissa received the wrong embryo, which carried the exact mutation the couple hoped to eliminate in their children. Their son is now a year old and will likely face the same life-altering stomach removal surgery that Jason underwent as a result of the mixup. The couple says they did everything in their power to prevent the exact scenario they are currently in.
"Everything available from technology to date, we did, and we followed all of their orders and did everything we needed to do," said Jason.
Melissa first noticed the error on a medical report she requested from HRC about 10 months after her son was born in 2021. Handwritten notes on that report indicated that the embryo which became her baby boy indeed carried the CDH1 gene - the very one that caused the stomach cancer that Jason was diagnosed with at the age of 32. Gastric cancer also took the lives of two of his aunts. Jason said realizing that his son also carried the deadly gene despite his extensive efforts to prevent it was soul-shattering.
"I was devastated. I felt like I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time again," she said.
After requesting her full medical records from the clinic, Melissa says she received an altered version of the initial report, with the handwritten notes removed. On Wednesday, their attorney filed a lawsuit against the HRC and Dr. Bradford Kolb, claiming negligence, malpractice, battery, misuse of embryos and fraudulent concealment.
"Hopefully by having this conversation right now, we can lend our little bit of support to changing our processes, to changing regulations, to having some sort of framework to minimize or hopefully completely eliminate this ever happening again," said their attorney Adam Wolf, partner at Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise.
When asked what justice would look like for the couple, Melissa replied, "I don’t think there’s anything that can justify what happened or what they did. My son is still going to have the same future. He’s still going to have to live his life differently because of something we tried everything to prevent."
HRC has issued the following statement to FOX 11 in response:
"At HRC Fertility, our mission is to provide world-class care to all our patients struggling with parenthood. The family planning journey requires many difficult choices. We take all of our patients' choices and concerns very seriously and are committed to providing the highest quality of care.
We deeply empathize with this family's situation. However, the patients associated with the case sought genetic testing and genetic counseling outside of HRC Fertility, and with an outside party; they wished to have a male embryo transferred, which we carried out according to the family’s explicit wishes and in accordance with the highest level of care.
We offer a variety of fertility procedures so all families, regardless of challenges, can have the opportunity to become parents. We have successfully helped thousands of individuals, couples and families become loving parents, including the patients involved in this story.
We also stand by the professionalism and expertise of our medical staff and pride ourselves on adhering to the highest standards for patient care, patient records, results, and testing at all our locations. Since 1988, we have remained dedicated to helping hopeful parents build families through assisted reproductive technology, compassion, expertise, innovation, cutting-edge research and personalized care."