A baby conceived with a sperm donor now suffers from an inherited blood disorder, a lawsuit filed in St. Louis charges.
Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder
that in severe cases requires a lifetime of blood transfusions. It was never supposed to show up in the baby that a St. Louis couple conceived in 2015 using donor sperm.
That's because the donor had been screened for just that genetic disease — or at least, that's what the paperwork from the Manhattan Cryobank had stated. But according to a lawsuit first filed in St. Louis city circuit court last November, the sperm donor did indeed carry the trait for thalassemia alpha, an incurable disease that impairs the body's ability to manufacture blood cells and the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin.
The lawsuit, which was transferred this week to the federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri, accuses the New York-based sperm bank of defrauding the local couple by misrepresenting its screening process for sperm donors.
The lawsuit notes that the child's mother, identified only as "Megan" in the suit, prevailed in arbitration against the company, which had sought to deny any liability for selling the sperm.
The lawsuit does not specify if the arbitration ended in a settlement, but it does describe the combination of coincidence and alleged fraud that resulted in the child's genetic condition.
The suit was filed by the child's father, Kendan Elliott, on behalf of himself and the toddler, who is not named.
According to the lawsuit, Elliott's wife did not know she was a carrier for thalassemia, and she did not seek to get genetic testing on herself before using the donated sperm to become pregnant. But the mother's status should have been immaterial, the suit contends, because Manhattan Cryobank had sold the donor sperm after explicitly promising the couple it had performed a blood test for thalassemia and other possible genetic diseases. The donor was not a carrier, the company had told them.
The lawsuit quotes from the agreement signed between the sperm bank and couple in 2015. The paperwork, which the couple signed before buying the sperm from Donor 184, stated that medical tests showed "no evidence of such inheritable diseases... in the donor(s) who semen will be used in the Recipients."
But in November 2015, when Elliott's partner gave birth, their child was soon diagnosed with thalassemia alpha. The lawsuit cites a cost analysis for a lifetime medical care: $3.6 million, which is how much the the lawsuit is now seeking in a jury trial.
The suit also seeks damages for various counts of fraud and negligence.
According to the suit, Donor 184 was approved as a sperm donor in 2009 before medical tests had been completed, and then, in 2014, the sperm bank chose not to retest its previous donors after upgrading to a more advanced genetic testing system.
The company, the suit alleges, "was reckless in not implementing its new genetic testing policy retroactively, which increased genetic risk for clients who chose pre-2014 donors, like Donor 184."
It is that risk that allegedly played out for the couple and their new baby. After the diagnosis, the lawsuit alleges that the Manhattan Cryobank re-tested the donor, "and the results were positive that he is in fact a carrier of the alpha thalassemia trait."
Messages left with the Manhattan Cryobank and its St. Louis-based attorney were not returned earlier this morning. The suit was filed by Stuart L. Cochran of Steckler, Gresham, Cochran PLLC of Dallas, Texas.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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