Have you ever looked around at a big family gathering and secretly thought to yourself, “How is it possible that I’m related to these people?”
If so, you’re not alone.
DNA testing has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years thanks to companies like ancestry.com and 23andMe.
For the low price of $59, you can trace your family’s roots and find out if you really are the long-lost descendent of royalty that you’ve always suspected. Or that crazy Uncle Billy who reeks of sauerkraut and foot fungus isn’t really your uncle (thank god.)
You may even stumble upon a skeleton or two in the ol’ family closet.
***But be warned, you may just get a WHOLE lot more than you bargained for.***
In the case of one Utah family what was meant to be a fun family activity turned into a shocking revelation when they discovered that the son they had conceived via IVF isn’t biologically the father’s.
All thanks to the results of a do-it-yourself 23andMe DNA kit.
In an interview with ABC4 News in Salt Lake City, Utah, the father, Vanner Johnson, recalls the moment he first realized the truth.
“When I looked on that page and saw mom for him and saw father unknown and I thought “what do you mean father unknown? I am his father.”
You understand there’s that possibility but it’s so remote.”
Apparently, the mix-up occurred at the University of Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine over a decade ago.
Vanner and Donna Johnson turned to IVF in 2007 when they were unable to get pregnant with their second child.
During IVF (invitro-fertilization) the woman’s eggs are retrieved and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The resulting embryo or embryos are then implanted into the uterus.
The lab used the wrong sperm.
It would be over TEN YEARS before the truth came out.
There were a lot of emotions we had to work through including separating the love of our son which has not changed…to the issue that we were dealing with. This mistake that happened, how could it happen, why did it happen and what do we do now?
The couple waited over a year before telling their now 12-year-old son the news. They also decided to track down their son’s biological father.
To do so, the Johnson’s took another DNA test through Ancestry. They found a hit: Devin McNeil.
Vanner reached out to Devin. Initially, Devin did not respond to Vanner’s messages, thinking it was spam. But they say the third time’s the charm and he and his wife, Kelly, finally agreed to a Facetime meeting.
Devin tells ABC4 news:
“We decided to answer it and covered up our camera. We could see him in the car. he told us the story, obviously, we weren’t very credulous at first but the more details that came out the more evident it was that there was something that had happened that involved us.”
It turns out that the McNeils and the Johnsons were going through IVF treatments at the same time.
They were even able to pinpoint the day they believe the error occurred.
“There was one date that we were in the clinic at the same time. I was doing transfers so that’s when they put the embryos back inside and she was doing retrieval when they take your eggs and retrieve them and it was that same day…we think around the same time, um 14 years ago.”
While the story plays like an episode right out of Grey’s Anatomy, it’s real life. And it can’t be tied up neatly in a one-hour time slot.
The families are currently working together to figure out where to go from here.
One thing they do know for certain is that they don’t want anyone else to have to go through the same experience.
By speaking out now, they are hoping that labs will start doing more to ensure this never happens again. They also encourage anyone who has gone through IVF to do a DNA test.
They make you feel it’s as secure and safe as anything when you go in… and there’s triple verification and you are physically and visually verifying everything that you’re providing.
So, they make you feel and think that the checks and balances are in place when they likely are, but we are obviously a case amongst a few others where things happen and there’s some mistakes.
This isn’t the only time a mix-up has occurred.
In 2004, a Californian woman won $1M in damages after a fertility specialist gave her the wrong embryo and hid the mistake until the baby was 10 months old.
In 2009, Ohio mother Carolyn Savage handed over her baby to its biological parents after also being implanted with the wrong embryo.
And in 2018, Anni and Ashot Manukyan received a stranger’s embryo (which did not result in a pregnancy) while a woman thousands of miles away gave birth to their baby. The couple is currently suing CHA Fertility Center in California for the mix-up.
While extremely rare, errors do happen.
The IVF journey is not an easy one. It is often fraught with heartache and grief. It can tear away at you physically, mentally, and emotionally. For the lucky ones, it ends in a miracle.
For the Johnsons their IVF journey didn’t end with the birth of their son. It turns out it was just the beginning of their story.