Akron's Summa Health is sued for alleged sperm mix-up that was exposed by Ancestry home DNA test
Jessica Harvey Galloway asked for an Ancestry.com DNA test for Christmas in 2020, in the hopes of discovering relatives in Europe. What she found instead was that her father is not biologically related to her, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
In 1991, Jeanine and Mike Harvey wanted to have a child, so they went to a fertility doctor at what was then called Summa Akron City Hospital (now Summa Health System), for help conceiving, the lawsuit claims.
The couple decided to go through an intrauterine insemination procedure (IUI) that would use the sperm and egg from the couple. The procedure was believed to be a success and Jeanine gave birth to a daughter, Jessica.
Jessica Harvey Galloway with her father, Mike Harvey. [Courtesy Peiffer Wolf]
For 30 years, the family thought Jessica was biologically related to both Jeanine and Mike, but they have now discovered the actual biological father was another fertility clinic patient at Summa Akron City Hospital, according to lawyers representing the family.
All of the patients involved in the alleged sperm mix-up went to Dr. Nicholas J. Spirtos, who was serving as the Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and In Vitro Fertilization/Embryo Transfer at the hospital at that time.
The couple filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Summa Health System, Nicholas J. Spirtos, D.O. and Nicholas J. Spirtos, D.O., Inc., according to their attorneys. They claim breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, lack of informed consent, and battery for inseminating Jeanine with a stranger's genetic material without her consent, among other claims.
They would like for Summa Health to be found liable for those claims, to be informed of what happened to Mike's sperm that was supposed to be used in their IUI procedure, and receive compensation that would be determined by a jury in the trial.
Summa Health did not respond to a request for comment on the alleged fertility mix-up and the lawsuit
The Harvey family pose for a picture in the late 90s. [Courtesy Peiffer Wolf].
“For us, and for countless unsuspecting families out there, it took just one Christmas gift – a home DNA test kit – to change our lives forever," Jeanine Harvey said in a statement. "It revealed a trauma that I never could have imagined. It’s taken every ounce of my power to remain strong for myself and my family as we try to move forward.”
Jessica (middle), with her parents Jeanine and Mike. [Courtesy Peiffer Wolf]
Jessica and her husband were planning a trip to Italy. She wanted to test her DNA to see if she had any relatives there on her father's side, but she discovered that she isn't Italian.
"How cool – we thought – would it be to learn if we had family in the countries we’d be visiting. Maybe we could connect with our distant relatives," Jessica said in a statement. "My parents got us Ancestry.com kits as Christmas gifts, and since then, our lives have never been the same – and never will be.”
The discovery that Jessica is not Italian led to Mike taking a DNA test as well, which is when they discovered they were not genetically related.
Jessica then used Facebook to track down some of her second and third cousins who were revealed to her by Ancestry. She eventually traced her family tree back to her biological father. Her biological father confirmed he was also a patient at Summa Health. He and his wife were at Summa on the same day that Jessica was conceived. He and his wife had a slightly different procedure, in vitro fertilization (IVF), scheduled that day, but they didn’t have a child from that procedure. They divorced shortly after the failed IVF procedure according to the Peiffer Wolf attorneys.
It’s unclear whether the couple was given Mike Harvey’s sperm through the mixing up of the vials, or whether it is a case of unclean equipment that caused Jeanine to be inseminated by a stranger’s sperm, attorneys said. The law firm reached out to the hospital and the doctor last year, but they haven’t received any answers.
Jessica reached out to the man, who attorneys referred to as Mr. Barrett to keep his identity private, and revealed the news that he was likely her biological father.
“His exact words were: ‘I’m not scared. This is great news. I’ve gone my whole life thinking I have no children, and this is great news, I have a daughter,’” Jessica said, recounting the first phone call she had with the man who is genetically her father.
Despite the news, Jessica said Mike would always be her father.
“I want to thank my mom and my dad for their courage and strength. I love you so much, and no matter what,” Jessica said, taking a break as her voice cracked, “you are my parents forever and always.”
Mistakes in the reproductive industry
According to the law firm representing the Harveys, Peiffer Wolf, numerous instances of fertility misconduct have come to light due to home DNA tests.
"These cases highlight the largely unregulated nature of the U.S. assisted reproductive technology industry. While a handful of states have enacted new laws that try to protect patients in some manner, there is no comprehensive oversight of this multi-billion-dollar industry," the law firm said in a statement.
This same law firm represented families who sued University Hospitals over fertility clinic errors. In 2018, University Hospitals destroyed about 4,000 eggs and embryos when a storage tank was turned off and the alarm system failed to alert staff of fluctuating temperatures.