In September 2019, a Los Angeles couple thought they were bringing their newborn daughter home after the mother gave birth via in vitro fertilization (IVF), but they soon found out they were actually being plunged into what sounds like the plot to a bad ’90s comedy after it turned out another couple’s embryo had been implanted into the woman’s body while their embryo was sent to another couple who had the same procedure done at the same clinic—which the couple is now suing, because…uh, yeah.
41-year-old Alexander Cardinale told PEOPLE that he immediately knew something was wrong when the child he thought was his was born at the California Center for Reproductive Health.
“It was sort of a primal reaction,” he said of the moment he noticed the baby bore no resemblance to him or his wife, Daphna Cardinale. “It was a little jarring, but I shook it off and cut the umbilical cord.”
Three months later, Alexander said he and Daphna were informed the fertility clinic mistakenly implanted another couple’s embryo into Daphna and transferred the Cardinales’ embryo into the woman whose child they ended up with.
After the Cardinales received this shocking information, they swapped children with the other couple in January 2020. One can only imagine how conflicting and ultimately painful that experience must have been for both couples involved.
“This is something that’s just changed who we are,” Daphna, 43, told PEOPLE. “It’s still a daily struggle and will continue to be.”
Whether the children of parents are biological or not, the bonding that happens over a three-month period is typically too deep for it to be easy to give the child up, even if one is exchanging them for their own biological child. This story is just wild and unfortunate.
So, now, the couple is suing the clinic and their doctor, Dr. Eliran Mor, for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud, among other complaints.
“People make mistakes and in most industries, those mistakes are fairly harmless. They can be corrected,” Adam Wolf, the couple’s attorney told PEOPLE. “With fertility clinics, those mistakes can have lifelong consequences. This has fundamentally changed the lives of Daphna and Alexander, as well as their two children.”
The couple said that Alexander wasn’t the only one who noticed the baby—who was apparently of a different race or ethnicity—didn’t look like the parents. They said their friends noticed it and commented on it too.
“If we hadn’t done IVF, I would’ve just chalked it up to genetics,” Alexander said. “She just looks how she looks. No big deal. But because we’d done IVF, my brain started going to the dark place.”
Daphna—who initially told her husband he was overreacting and said that while the baby looked different, “she felt so familiar to me because I carried her and I birthed her”—eventually had a DNA test done after receiving an odd call from the clinic requesting a photo of the baby.
Daphna said that call was the last straw after she had already been frustrated by friends commenting that the child “looked like she could actually be a different ethnicity than us because she didn’t really look like us.” (Apparently, she was of a different race, but Daphna declined to identify the race out of respect for the other couple.)
Alexander and Daphna already had a five-year-old daughter who, like the couple, had bonded with the baby who turned out to be someone else’s.
This story is a mess and the couple should get everything they’re suing for.