An innocent Christmas present turned into a nightmare for an Ohio couple, who learned through an at-home DNA test that the child they had raised for 28 years was not biologically related to her father, a new lawsuit claims.
According to the suit, Mike and Jeanine Harvey underwent an artificial insemination procedure at Summa Akron City Hospital in 1991, resulting in the birth of their daughter, Jessica, the next year. They never suspected anything was amiss and raised their daughter in keeping with her father’s Italian heritage. In a press conference, Mike Harvey said his daughter even took Italian in high school and practiced speaking it with her paternal grandmother.
Nearly three decades later, Jessica decided to travel to Italy, and her parents purchased her an Ancestry.com DNA test so she could find and connect with any distant relatives still living across the Atlantic. But when the results came back, the Harveys said at the press conference, they showed no Italian roots in Jessica’s genealogy—in fact, they suggested she was not biologically related to her father at all.
Unable to believe the results of the test, the complaint states, Jessica submitted her DNA to another genetic testing company, and she and her father underwent paternity testing with an independent lab. Both returned the same result: She and her father were not genetically related.
After some genealogical sleuthing, the family was able to track down a man who appeared to be Jessica’s biological father. Contacted by the family, the man confirmed that he and his wife had been patients of the same doctor, Nicholas Spirtos, in 1991, but had never conceived a child. Paternity testing confirmed that the man was indeed her biological father.
In a press conference Wednesday, Mike Harvey said the entire experience had been “like waking up in someone else’s life.”
“As a husband and a father, it’s extremely difficult to watch your family in pain,” he said. “Learning that your entire reality isn’t what you believed it to be is hard to explain.”
The family is now suing the doctor and the hospital system for medical malpractice, negligence, and lack of informed consent, among other things. In a statement, the hospital said it “take[s] this allegation seriously and understand the impact this has on the family.”
Mike, Jessica, and Jeanine Harvey
Courtesy Mike and Jeanine Harvey
“At this point, we have not met with the family or conducted testing of our own,” the statement said. “Given the very limited information that we have and the amount of time that has passed, it remains our hope that the attorneys representing the family will work with us to make that next step a priority.”
An attorney for the Harveys pushed back on this statement in the press conference, saying they had sent both Summa Health and Dr. Spiros extensive medical records and a draft complaint seven months ago. The attorney, Ashlie Case Sletvold, said the hospital did not attempt to meet with the family or conduct their own testing during that time.
Dr. Spirtos did not respond to a request for comment sent through his office.
Cases such as these have risen dramatically in recent years due to the popularity of at-home genetic testing—in fact, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Adam Wolf, has previously said that he sees a spike in cases in February, after families like the Harveys receive the results of DNA tests purchased over the holidays. The popular genetic testing company 23andMe includes a warning label on its products that says customers ”might discover unexpected relationships,” and adds: “Though not common, these discoveries could affect you and your family.”
Courtesy Mike and Jeanine Harvey
Wolf said he has represented thousands of victims of fertility center misconduct. In the press conference, he called for greater regulation of the IVF industry, referring to it as the “Wild West.”
“After several decades and thousands of fertility misconduct cases, we are still in the ‘Wild West’ era,” he said in a statement. “How many more people will have to share their heartbreaking stories before our legislators take this problem seriously?”
Jeanine Harvey, meanwhile, said her family’s experience had been “a trauma that I never could have imagined.”
“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,” she said in a statement. “It’s taken every ounce of my power to remain strong for myself and my family as we try to move forward.”