A lawsuit claims that a “mistake” during IVF may cause a baby boy to develop stomach cancer.
The infant’s parents sought IVF to avoid passing on a gastric cancer gene, the suit says.
The child’s father told Insider that his heart is hurting for his baby boy “every day.”
A baby born via IVF is at risk of developing a deadly cancer after a fertility clinic wrongly transferred a genetically mutated embryo, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the baby’s parents.
Their complaint, which Insider has obtained, alleges that Huntington Reproductive Center, which was founded in 1988, and its in-house doctor, Dr. Bradford Kolb, are responsible for inflicting “untold pain and suffering” on the baby, who will require a feeding tube.
The filing says that in the best-case scenario, the baby will need stomach-removal surgery when he reaches adolescence. At worst, he could develop gastric cancer, which can be fatal.
The boy’s parents, Jason and Melissa Diaz, opted for IVF and screening in order to avoid passing along Jason’s stomach-cancer gene — a mutation in the CDH1 gene. Their joy after the child’s birth in September 2021 was “short-lived,” because he tested positive for the genetic mutation when he was 10 months old, according to court papers.
This gene puts a person at a very high risk of developing a rare but deadly form of cancer. The recommended treatment for those at high risk of developing stomach cancer is a stomach removal surgery.
“We just can’t believe that after all we did, and after all that HRC and Dr. Kolb promised, he had the exact same mutation we’d thought we’d escaped,” Melissa Diaz, 31, said in a press conference Wednesday.
“My heart was crushed,” she told Insider. “It was hard to believe that it was real.”
Jason Diaz said in a press conference that he was diagnosed five years ago with hereditary diffuse stomach cancer, a rare form of cancer, and multiple family members had died of the disease. His chemotherapy treatment was unsuccessful, and he underwent a gastrectomy.
“My entire digestive system has been rewired,” said the 37-year-old.
Diaz, who works as a retail manager, said that “when my wife and I decided to have children, we knew we had to do everything in our power to protect our future kids from this genetic mutation.”
“Now I will be forced to watch my own son — my own flesh and blood — go through this,” he said. “My heart is hurting for my baby boy every day.”
Jason Diaz said at the press conference that he consulted with Kolb during his chemotherapy in 2018 and that HRC “promised” to screen his and his wife’s embryos and transfer only those without the mutant gene. “By trusting Dr. Kolb and HRC, it turned out to be the biggest mistake in our lives,” Diaz said.
The lawsuit contends that HRC was fully aware of the couple’s wishes, and not only transferred the mutated embryo but attempted to cover up its mistake by doctoring medical records after it discovered the error.
In a statement to Insider, HRC said it empathized with the family’s situation. It said that “an initial biopsy was carried out by HRC. ” The statement continued, “However, the patients associated with the case sought genetic testing and genetic counseling outside of HRC Fertility.”
Adam Wolf, a partner at Peiffer Wolf , the law firm that represents the Diazes, told Insider in a statement that, “We know that HRC was wrong, and simply misinterpreted what the genetic report showed.”
Speaking at the press conference, Wolf said, “This was a tragic, tragic error by HRC Fertility and Dr. Kolb. And it’s inexcusable.”
The complaint — which alleges negligence, malpractice, battery, misuse of embryos, and fraudulent concealment — says that the couple, who married in 2018, did the “responsible” thing by choosing IVF to screen for the potential gene mutation in their future children.
The pair placed their trust in Kolb and his team, based in Pasadena, California, after reading the HRC website, the suit says.
“It boasted that Dr. Kolb was known for helping to develop and implementing cutting edge technologies in the genetic screening of embryos,” the complaint reads.
Lawsuit claims the clinic tried to cover the error
In their suit, the Diazes say they underwent IVF in 2020 and five embryos proved viable. According to the document, one of the embryos with the mutation was transferred to Melissa Diaz by Dr. Kolb in January 2021.
The filing says that the parents’ families “shared their joy” when their son was born. Relatives “threw a giant party to celebrate eliminating the CDH1 mutation from the Diaz family line,” it says.
Melissa said at the press conference that she discovered what happened when she contacted the clinic in the summer of 2022 to ask about a subsequent embryo transfer. She added that the couple wanted a second baby before she had her ovaries removed because she has a heightened risk of ovarian cancer.
The Diazes claim that an HRC employee sent the couple handwritten paperwork that showed which embryos had the cancer gene. “To her horror,” the lawsuit says, Melissa found out that the screening of her son’s embryo had detected the mutation after all.
Melissa, a claims associate, said she thought it was an error at first. “I hoped it was some kind of record-keeping mistake,” she said at the press conference. “As it turned out, they had misinterpreted the results of our embryo testing.”
She added: “It was the ultimate betrayal. We trusted them to help us have a healthy baby.”
Wolf said that HRC tried to cover its tracks by retracting “information about which embryo was transferred.” According to their lawsuit, the center supplied a “falsified version” of the report with the “incriminating” notes deleted.
In a statement to Insider, HRC categorically denied “any accusations of forgery or records mismanagement. Although an initial biopsy of the embryos in question was performed by HRC, the issues relevant to genetic testing and counseling were performed through a third-party provider.”
The filing said that the baby tested positive for the mutation in the CDH1 gene at the age of 10 months.
Interventional gastroenterologist Dr. Austin Chiang, who hasn’t treated the Diazes’ baby, told Insider that people with the genetic mutation are at a higher risk of the rare cancer.
Citing a study published in JAMA in 2015, he said, “Based on this paper looking at 183 patients with this mutation, by the age of 80, 70% of men and 56% of women developed gastric cancer.”
Jason worries his son will miss out on ‘simple things’ like eating a cheeseburger
Jason Diaz told Insider that he could predict his son’s health path after his own experience having stomach cancer.
“How is it that he has to change his life at such a young age, and he won’t be able to experience the things that he should be able to experience as a young adult, an adult?” he said.
He added that, if he develops cancer, his son’s life with a likely stomach removal, feeding tube, and possibly chemotherapy will be difficult.
“Simple things that we take for granted in life, like having a cheeseburger and drinking a soda at the same time or taking him to the ballpark and watching him buy an ice cream — those are things that won’t be possible when he gets older,” Diaz said.
Attorneys are demanding an undisclosed amount from HRC for the boy’s ongoing medical expenses and the “anguish” of his family.
“I know we will get through this with strength and grace,” Jason Diaz said at the press conference. “But there needs to be justice.”
Melissa told Insider that her baby was a “happy, chatty boy” who had just learned to “climb up on the sofa by himself.”
“He only knows happiness,” Jason added. “That is what we have preached to him every day. He is an amazing, amazing boy.”
Read the original article on Insider