(CN) — A Los Angeles couple sued a fertility clinic Monday over an "IVF mix-up" which led two sets of parents to carry and give birth to the other's baby in 2019.
"We missed an entire year of our daughter's life," said a tearful Daphna Cardinale, one of the plaintiffs, at a video press conference Monday. "We never saw our baby’s entrance into the world, or cuddled her in the first weeks of her life. I breast-fed and bonded with a child I was later forced to give away."
Daphna and her husband, Alexander Cardinale, had been trying to have a second child when they sought the services of the California Center for Reproductive Health (CCRH), run by Dr. Eliran Mor, who came highly recommended from a friend. Mor recommended in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
The couple claims that, unbeknownst to them, CCRH outsources its embryology services to "In VitroTech, a third-party lab owned by Dr. Mor" with an "allegedly extremely checkered past." The lab, according to the complaint filed in LA Superior Court, "had previously failed to properly label embryology materials, lost or switched genetic material, and created a substantial risk of mixed-up genetic material."
"The lab has been accused of all sorts of misconduct," said the Cardinales' attorney, Adam Wolf.
Mor did not respond to a phone call requesting an interview.
Daphna gave birth to a baby girl on Sept. 24, 2019. Her husband said he was startled by the child's appearance: her skin and hair color was much darker than theirs.
"I immediately felt shaken and confused as to why I didn’t recognize her," said Alexander.
"She looked to be of a different race," the couple says in their complaint. "Family and friends began discreetly telling him how surprised they were by their birth daughter’s appearance — some even asking if they used a donated embryo... To cover his growing feelings of discomfort, Alexander began joking that maybe she was not his daughter."
Some weeks after the girl's birth, the Cardinales ordered a home DNA kit. The test confirmed the couple's deepest fear: their newborn child was not related to either of them.
"In having to push through my own denial, I was overwhelmed by feelings of fear betrayal, anger and heartbreak," Daphna said.
They contacted the clinic, which, according to Wolf, took weeks to confirm that the Cardinales' embryo had been switched with that of another couple's.
At the press conference, Wolf said the other couple plans on filing their own lawsuit later this week but will seek to remain anonymous.
After a handful of uncomfortable and emotional meetings, the two sets of families exchanged their children.
"Losing the birth child you know for the genetic child you don’t even know yet, it’s a truly impossible nightmare," Alexander said. "[It] will affect our family for the rest of our lives."
Though the transition was difficult, the Cardinales said the have adjusted, and that the two families are now intertwined.
"We have done our best to forge a larger birth family," said Daphna. Referring to the baby she gave birth to, she said, "I can’t imagine not seeing her ever again."
The Cardinales said the ordeal took a heavy toll on them financially as well as emotionally. Daphna, a therapist, says she lost most of her clients. Alexander, a singer-songwriter whose 2016 single, "Made For You," was used in a Coca-Cola commercial, alleges he was unable to promote his new single and was dropped from his record label, Atlantic Records.
"Fertility misconduct is becoming more and more common-place," said Wolf. He said his firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway has represented "hundreds of people who have been the victims of fertility center misconduct. That misconduct runs the gamut from dropped embryos, to misplaced embryos, to the transfer of embryos to the wrong person, to doctors utilizing their own sperm to fertilize embryos. The list goes on."
Wolf previously represented another couple who sued a fertility clinic in 2019 over a similar IVF mix-up. That suit settled for an undisclosed amount.
In June, a federal jury ordered a cryogenic tank maker to pay $15 million to five plaintiffs, after a mishap destroyed 3,500 frozen eggs and embryos at the Pacific Fertility Center lab in San Francisco. Wolf represented the plaintiffs in that case as well.
"Fertility centers are almost entirely unregulated," said Wolf. "Barber shops and nail salons are subject to far more regulation."
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