MY IVF MIX-UP STORY- DAILY MAIL NEWSPAPER- FRONT PAGE EXCLUSIVE- ***JUNE 2009**

This heartbreaking article tells the story of how an IVF mix-up has caused misery for a family.


The couple contacted our publicist Jonathan Hartley who set up a lucrative exclusive deal with the Daily Mail newspaper.


The story appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail newspaper.


Jonathan ensured that the couple were delighted with the article and kept their anonymity for the sake of the children.


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The white couple who had mixed race children after IVF blunder


DAILY MAIL NEWSPAPER EXCLUSIVE


When ten-year-old Michael Williams climbs into his father Keith's arms for a goodnight cuddle, he will often ask the same dreaded question: 'Why am I brown?' Looking up into his father's blue eyes and taking in his light brown hair and fair skin, his son will then ask: 'How can I make myself lighter, like you?'

Keith doesn't know how to answer these questions, so he'll make a joke about how Michael was delivered by a stork or that he was found under a gooseberry bush. Anything to avoid having to tell him the truth.

For the reality is that not only was Michael conceived via IVF using donor sperm, but there was a terrible mix-up when the wrong sperm was mistakenly used by the hospital fertility clinic the couple attended in their hope of becoming parents.

Keith and Catherine with their children, who were conceived using sperm from a Cape Coloured man. Their faces have been obscured at their own request.

Caring: Keith and Catherine with their children, who were conceived using sperm from a Cape Coloured man. Their faces have been obscured at their own request.

The result is that while Keith, 47, and his 46-year-old wife Catherine are white, their son is black. To add to their distressing situation, their 13-year-old daughter Susan, conceived three-and-a-half years earlier than their son in the same manner - and bizarrely with the same sperm donor - is light-skinned.

Instead of fertilising Catherine's eggs with 'White Caucasian' donor sperm, as the couple had requested and, they say, been promised, a staff member at the Regional Fertility Centre at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital accidentally used donor sperm marked 'Caucasian Cape Coloured'.

South African in origin, the sperm's racial make-up is a mixture of white, black and Malay, which means children born from it can be either black or white. This accounts for the difference in colour between the Williams siblings, who - although born three years apart - came from the same batch of fertilised eggs.

In a letter dated October 2003 to the Williams family - to protect the children's identities, the Mail has changed their names - the Regional Fertility Centre offered the couple an 'unreserved apology' for the mistake over the labelling.

It stated: 'Normal practice would be that only sperm from White Caucasian donors would be requested, unless a couple of a different race were being treated.'

Even more disturbingly, the hospital admitted the Williamses were among a number of couples treated at the Regional Fertility Centre (RFC) who, according to the letter, also 'achieved pregnancy as a result of using a particular batch of such donor sperm' - presumably with the same unexpected consequences.



Signed by Dr David Boyle - referred to as the 'Person Responsible' at the RFC - the letter concluded: 'We have taken this situation very seriously and have put systems and checks in place to ensure that it should not occur again.'

Now, in what is believed to be the first legal case of its kind in Britain, the Williamses are suing the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (formerly the Royal Group of Hospitals Trust) for damages for their mental distress, social discredit and breach of contract under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Taking it to court

The case, which the Williamses say has been dragging on for more than seven years in the face of the hospital's alleged stonewalling, is expected to be heard in the High Court in Belfast in September.

As there is no precedent for such a legal claim in Britain, the Williamses have been told by their lawyers that they have no idea how big an award to expect if the court rules in their favour. Keith Williams has already spent thousands of pounds on legal fees, but for him this is not about money; it is about accountability.

'I couldn't love my children more than if I had fathered them myself,' says Keith, a businessman who has a zero sperm count caused by a testicular cyst. 'They are gorgeous kids and I'd rather die than not have them, but this mistake has devastated our family and almost destroyed our marriage. We can't go out together because people openly stare at us.

'My wife has been asked if she's had an affair with an Indian man on holiday. In public, she'll shrug it off. But in private, she's often in tears.

'When I take my son to football, I've heard other people say: "Who's that Brazilian boy?" I'm less upset for myself than I am for him.

'I love him regardless of his colour, but how will he feel about growing up with white parents of a different racial heritage because of a mistake by the hospital where he was conceived? Will he still love me for letting him believe all this time that I'm his real father?

'People may say I should have told him sooner, but at what age do you explain in a way he can understand? The fact is we should never have been put in the position of having to explain this.

'As he's growing older, he's becoming more and more confused, and he's suffered racial taunts in school, with other pupils asking: 'Where's your father from?' He's been called a "n****r" and a "P**i". He can see I look completely different from him and knows something is wrong, but doesn't know what.

'We live in a small community, which is predominantly white, so people notice and make assumptions, which is stressful and hurtful. Our lives have been ruined by this mistake.'

It hurts our family

His wife Catherine says: 'It hurts me when people say "Have you had an affair?" - or the look of disbelief when Kevin says Michael is his child and they say: "That's your son?"

'It's been much harder for Keith because the children are mine biologically, but he is terrified they will reject him when we tell them the truth, because they are already suffering because of the hospital's mistake.

'We always planned to tell the children the truth - when they were adults and old enough to understand - but because of the disgraceful way we've been treated, we are being forced into telling them at a more vulnerable age. It frightens us.

'Michael is always asking me "Mummy, why am I darker?" and how can you explain to a child they were conceived in a different way? Not only that, but that a mistake was made.

'The hospital left someone in charge of the future of our lives, a mistake was made and we are the ones living with the consequences of that. We are both incredibly angry and upset. The hospital has said sorry, but it's just a word and has no meaning for us.'

The Williamses, who live in a small village in Northern Ireland, have been married for more than 20 years, but their relationship - they say - is now hanging by a thread.

Keith, who is originally from Essex but moved to Northern Ireland with his family when he was 17, says he and Catherine have come close to splitting up several times because of the stress of their situation.

When they first decided on using donor sperm to give them the family they so desired, after eight years of trying to conceive, they thought it was the answer to their prayers.

Keith was told he was infertile after he went to the doctor with a swollen testicle - fearing cancer - and further investigation revealed a benign cyst causing a blockage.

'We can't go out together as people stare at us'

 

Told by doctors that an operation to reverse the blockage had a very low success rate, Keith immediately started to look at other options so he and Catherine could start a family.

'We did talk about adoption, but the process seemed terribly long,' says Keith. 'And Catherine wanted to experience pregnancy and bear her own child, so using donor sperm seemed the perfect solution for us.'

The Williamses were referred by their doctor to the Regional Fertility Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, to discuss their options.

Further investigation showed that Catherine had polycystic ovaries, so the fertilisation of her eggs would have to be done in vitro using donor sperm. The couple decided to keep their fertility treatment secret from their friends and family.

They are Roman Catholics and Catherine, in particular, feared both religious and ethical objections from her close family. For his part, Keith admits he was keen for everyone to believe the children were his.

'I'm not ashamed that I am infertile, but it's a private matter,' he says. 'We knew that if we told people we were having children using donor sperm, we would then have to explain everything and that was something we didn't want to have to do.'

'This way, I could choose when and if I wanted to tell my children how they were conceived - and to be honest I would have been happy for them never to know they weren't biologically mine, because I've read articles about adult children of sperm donors who find it hard to come to terms with not knowing who their biological father is.'

Catherine adds: 'I was very anxious about something going wrong and I asked the staff specifically if there was any risk that I might have a black baby, because we didn't want people to know we were having fertility treatment. I was told there was no chance of that. We were told they'd match the donor sperm with my husband's colouring and take note of his hair and eye colour.'

Keith says he paid 2,000 towards the fertility treatment in cash, so worried was he that other people might find out about it through his bank records.

Catherine was injected daily by her husband with drugs to stimulate her ovaries and 11 of her eggs were harvested. Of these, eight were fertilised. Two were implanted on the first attempt, one of which survived, and the rest stored by the centre.

'I'll never forget the day we found out Catherine was pregnant,' remembers Keith. 'She sent me to buy three pregnancy tests just to make sure, and we were thrilled when each one was positive.

'My wife had a wonderful pregnancy and everyone thought the baby was mine. When Susan was born, we both cried with joy. I loved her instantly and I couldn't have cared less that she wasn't biologically mine.

'I remember Catherine cradling Susan in her arms and saying to me: "She looks a little like both of us." 

I really wanted that to be true, although her skin was a little darker than I'd expected. I did everything all proud fathers do, ringing round the relatives with the good news. No one suspected she wasn't mine.'

With Catherine's dark brown hair and a complexion darker than her husband's, Susan appeared to take after her mother and those early years, they say, were idyllic.

Besotted with their daughter, they treated her like their 'little princess', and with their business going from strength to strength, life couldn't have been happier.

'When Susan was about two, the fertility centre contacted us to ask what we wanted to do with our remaining fertilised eggs, because they could only keep them a certain amount of time before they had to be disposed of,' says Keith.

'Our families had started asking us when we were going to have baby number two, and Catherine was keen to give Susan a brother or sister, but I was more wary. I said to Catherine I had a bad feeling about it, that we'd been lucky to have Susan and that perhaps we should not push our luck.

'But Catherine wanted to go ahead. She'd loved being pregnant and giving birth, and having two children was her dream. So I agreed to try again and, before we knew it, she was pregnant at the first attempt.'

Michael was born naturally in 1998, and although thrilled to have a son, Catherine and Keith couldn't help but notice that he was much darker than Susan had been at birth. 'A nurse, who hadn't seen me, asked my wife if her husband was Mediterranean because she said Michael had a birthmark on his back which is apparently common in Mediterranean babies,' says Keith.

'Catherine shrugged it off, but when she told me what had happened I started to avoid the hospital, so this nurse couldn't see me and start asking awkward questions.'

Catherine adds: 'Michael was darker than Susan when he was born, but I was so wrapped up with love for my little boy that I didn't really take much notice of it.

'We knew he had the same sperm donor as Susan, so we thought he would just get lighter as time went by.

We completely trusted the fertility centre and thought it impossible a mistake might have been made.'

Instead of growing lighter, however, Michael's skin grew darker. There were raised eyebrows in the community when the family went out and Keith felt uncomfortable when people expressed surprise when he told them he was Michael's father.

'We suspected something wasn't quite right, but we were in denial,' he says. 'We just could not believe the clinic could get it wrong. We absolutely believed that what we would get from the fertility clinic was what we had asked for.

'We are not stupid people, but we trusted them and we kept telling ourselves Michael would end up the same colour as our daughter. We didn't even consider contacting the hospital to ask if there'd been a mistake because, even though deep down we suspected what had happened, we were frightened the children would be taken away from us.'

Michael was three years old when Keith received a phone call from the hospital asking for an urgent meeting to discuss a serious matter involving their children. 'They wouldn't tell me what it was over the phone and said they had to meet us face-to-face as soon as possible because it was so important,' says Keith.

'I was in an absolute panic thinking there was something wrong with their health, but I was reassured it wasn't that, but something very important.'

Keith had just started a new job and couldn't be there when Dr David Boyle - author of the letter of apology, although not personally involved in their treatment - arrived at the Williamses' home to deliver the shattering news that a mistake had been made and the wrong donor sperm used for their children.

Catherine says: 'He arrived in a Jaguar car and stayed for 20 minutes. He said they were very sorry for the mix-up and that it was very important that we should know because of the implications it might have for our children.

'Because of their racial heritage, when they have children, my daughter could have a black child and my son could have children much lighter than him. I was so stunned I didn't know what to think.'

When Dr Boyle had left, Catherine phoned her husband in tears and he immediately arranged for a further meeting at the hospital to discuss what had happened and its implications.

'I felt very angry and betrayed,' he says. 'We'd placed all our trust in the hospital and one person's mistake had ruined all our futures.

'We couldn't believe the clinic could get it wrong'


 

'We were told the person who'd made the mistake had been dealt with and was no longer working at the hospital and were offered counselling.

'When I asked "What are we going to tell the children?" they suggested leaving a few books around, explaining how some families are different. Then they offered us counselling at the hospital, but we refused because we had lost all trust in them.'

Keith believes the hospital was alerted to the mistake by another recipient of this batch of donor sperm, and then contacted the other families who'd had children as a result.

It is not known exactly how many other families have been affected, but Keith says he has been told it is around eight.

'We were told we were one of a number of families who'd received sperm from this donor and I suddenly realised that our children could have who knows how many half-siblings,' he says. 'I asked who they were and was told this was confidential. I walked out of that meeting in a daze and the very next day I went to see a solicitor because I was so angry.'

That was seven years ago and the Williamses have been fighting ever since for some kind of legal resolution.

But since the couple received the letter of apology from the Hospital Trust - which stated 'the implications of the label (Caucasian Cape Coloured) were not understood' - their negligence claim has allegedly been met with total silence.

Indeed, according to one of Keith's lawyers, although the 2003 letter 'amounts to a clear admission that normal practice was not followed . . . no excuse or explanation was offered'.

'I can't begin to describe how stressful it has been,' says Keith. 'And with each year the situation has become worse because the children are getting older and asking more questions. Michael's skin is getting darker and his sister gets upset when her friends say: "Where did your black brother come from?"

'It's not so bad when we all go away on holiday, but at home I've given up picking up my son from school and we don't go out as a family any more.

'Once, we all went out to an Indian restaurant and the waiter came up to us and said "A table for three?" and when I said "No, four", he looked confused. Then he pointed to me, my wife and my daughter and, when he came to my son, asked: "Who's he?" He couldn't believe he was with us.

'People ask who does that little boy belong to?'

 

'We try to ignore it and pretend it doesn't bother us, but it hurts - and what must our son think? Recently, Michael brought home his school photo. When I saw it, I asked my wife "Where's Michael?" and she pointed to his little brown face in the corner.

'Then you start thinking that every single parent in an overwhelmingly white community like ours is going to be looking at this photo and asking the same questions - "Who is this boy? Who is his father?" - because he looks nothing like me.'

Despite Michael standing out, Catherine has confided the truth in only one of her sisters - both her parents are dead - and Keith has told only his mother and one of his brothers.

He says: 'My mother was very supportive and said the children are a blessing however they come into this world, which is how we feel about them. But my brother said: "You shouldn't have done it in the first place, and that is why it's come back to haunt you."

'We will never regret having our children because we love them, but we do regret that it happened in this way and that we were so badly let down. They are the ones who will be the most affected by this.

'I still don't know how we are going to tell them or how they are going to react. They may be angry, they may reject me, but at least they'll know that I tried to fight for them and that if we do receive a settlement, the money will go in to a trust for them to soften the blow.'

Catherine adds: 'All the hospital has offered us is counselling. Well, I don't want their counselling - I shouldn't have been put in a position of needing it. It breaks my heart to see the wicked, cruel comments my son endures, and I live with the fear that one day he'll leave us because of it.'

Last night a spokeswoman for the Belfast Health and Social Trust, which in 2007 replaced The Royal Group of Hospitals and Dental Hospital Health and Social Services Trust, said they were unable to comment on ongoing legal cases.

The Mail has not used the real names of the family in order to protect the identities of the children.



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