Tuesday, 23 Jul 2019

Couple embroiled in fertility clinic scandal speaks out

Couple embroiled in fertility clinic scandal speaks out: Distraught mom who found out ANOTHER woman gave birth to her baby in monumental IVF blunder shares her agony

  • Months after a failed round of IVF, Anni and Ashot Manukyan of LA were asked to come to their fertility center for a cheek swab
  • They were told it was a routine test, but later found out it was for a DNA test
  • The test revealed one of their embryos was accidentally implanted in another woman, who had given birth in March  
  • The Korean-American couple who delivered their baby boy also delivered another boy, who belonged to a third couple 
  • The scandal was exposed when the Asian couple, who had only fertilized female embryos, delivered two non-Asian boys 
  • Anni and Ashot spent weeks fighting for custody of their son, Alec, which was granted on May 31 
  • All of the couples are outraged and suing CHA Fertility Center in LA, which is a multinational company with offices in China, South Korea, and elsewhere 

A couple who found out that another woman had given birth to their child after an IVF blunder has spoken out for the first time as they sue the esteemed fertility clinic.

Anni and Ashot Manukyan, an Armenian-American couple of Glendale, Los Angeles, were distraught last year when they had two embryos implanted at CHA Fertility Center, but it didn’t result in a pregnancy. 

But months later, the knife was twisted: they were asked to come into the center for cheek swabs on April 11, which were passed off as a routine annual procedure.

The next day, they were called into the office where they were informed that the swab was in fact a DNA test, which confirmed that another couple in New York, also patients at CHA, had delivered their baby (prematurely) on March 31 – as well as another baby, belonging to a third couple whose embryos were on ice at CHA. 

It turned out the embryos Anni and Ashot had received months earlier had not belonged to them, and they faced an expensive and lengthy legal battle to bring their month-old son home. 

Their son, Alec, was six weeks old by the time they got to see him, meeting him in the lobby of a hotel.  

What’s more, Anni and Ashot, who also have a seven-year-old daughter, are left with the prospect that another child of theirs may have been born to someone else. 

On Wednesday, the couple filed a lawsuit against CHA in the Superior Court of California and spoke out for the first time.  

Alec, pictured with Ashot, finally returned to Los Angeles at the end of May after a six-week court battle over his custody. He was born prematurely in March to a Korean-American couple who accidentally received his embryo

‘I don’t hear anybody, you know?’ Anni said, recalling the moment she found out.

‘All of a sudden my brain went to: I didn’t get to bond with my baby. I wasn’t able to carry him, I wasn’t able to hold him. I wasn’t able to feel him inside of me. I wasn’t there when he was born.

‘Those first moments of life are the most precious, that’s how the baby bonds with the mom, you know?

‘I don’t understand how CHA could have done this to us, the most important thing in our lives.

‘I’m a strong person but I have been hurt by these experiences in ways that hurt me every day. I hope nobody suffers through what my family has been through.’   

From the moment they learned of the scandal in late April, they spent weeks trying to get hold of their son. They were not allowed to know anything about their son, or the couple raising him, and the anxiety drove Anni to be hospitalized with a stress-related illness. 

Eventually, they flew to New York and spent two weeks in family court. 

When the judge eventually granted custody on May 31, Anni physically collapsed.

They were then allowed to meet Alec, and the Korean-American couple, to whom, Anni said, they are eternally grateful and sorry for. 

‘Who wants to meet their child in the lobby of a hotel? It was heartbreaking, it was horrible,’ Anni said, weeping.   

‘I’m just praying to God that I don’t have another son or daughter out there,’ Anni said. 

To the mother who carried her son, Anni said: ‘I pray for her every day. She was a victim of this as much as I am. She’s a lovely lady. She raised my baby inside of her and after he was born.’ 

The scandal was exposed when the Korean-American couple, who identified themselves only as YZ and AP in a lawsuit they filed against CHA last week, delivered two non-Asian boys in their home city of New York. 

They had spent $100,000 on their fertility care and travel to CHA Fertility Center, which they had been assured was one of the top clinics in the country. 

As is the case for all couples embarking on eye-wateringly expensive fertility treatment, they were desperate. They had married in 2012, and struggled to conceive for years before turning to CHA in January 2018.

The couple were happy with Dr Berger and Hong after their meeting. They embarked on the months of treatments – hormones, vitamins, test after test – to yield eight embryos, which is shy of the recommended 12, but an acceptable number.  

Their care and travel totaled $100,000.  The average cost of one cycle of IVF is $12,000 plus up to $3,000 for the medication, though research shows couples rarely yield enough embryos on the first try. 

Their first attempt at implantation in July 2018 failed. In August, the couple decided to try again, thawing two of their female embryos. And it was a success: they were pregnant with twins in September.  

According to court papers, the couple were ‘confused’ when sonograms showed twin boys, because they had only fertilized female embryos.

Berger and Hong tried to reassure the couple, saying that sonograms were ‘not a definitive test.’ 

The lawsuit says that the couple were victims of an ‘unimaginable mishap’ – so much so that they ‘could not find the courage and the way to tell others about their devastating loss.’

The ordeal has left AP and YZ with ‘permanent emotional injuries from which they will not recover,’ according to the lawsuit. They ‘may never know what happened to their embryos, as well as whether the currently cryopreserved embryos are genetically matched to them,’ court papers state. They are seeking unspecified damages.  

The clinic is not commenting on the matter, and the third couple has not spoken out. 

CHA refuses to comment on what happened, though they confirmed that all of the couples confirmed were in the clinic on August 20, 2018 for their implantation.  

Ashot said: ‘CHA put three families through a living hell, and our lives will never be the same. We fought to get our boy back, and now we will fight to make sure this never happens again.’ 

Anni said she never had issues with bonding with her son, but she said, ‘I will never be the same person again.’ 

‘I have trust issues now, I have barriers up everywhere,’ Anni said. Adding that she’s ‘just not ready’ to consider whether she has another child out there. 

‘We’re just trying to bond with our baby.’ 

Their attorney Adam Wolf, of Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane, said: ‘This incredible series of events demonstrates CHA’s shocking incompetence. While I have handled hundreds of cases of fertility-center misconduct, this tragedy at CHA is among the most egregious I have seen. 

‘Anni and Ashot put all their faith and trust in CHA. In return, CHA gave Anni and Ashot lies, excuses and heartbreak. We will not rest until this multinational corporation is held accountable.’

He added: ‘It’s fair to assume there are far more fertility clinic tragedies that happen than we know.’

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