A Los Angeles couple sued Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Wednesday over the destruction of their 7-year-old son’s stem cells in a 2019 freezer malfunction, a development they say has them fearing for his life.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit brought on behalf of Timothy and Linda Wratten and their son, identified only as E.F., alleges negligence, fraudulent concealment and breach of contract.
The couple’s son, like other children whose stem cells were allegedly destroyed in the freezer malfunction last summer, suffers from neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer for which stem cell treatment is vital, according to the suit. His cancer was discovered in 2014 and by that time had spread throughout his body, according to the suit.
The boy had emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor and was hospitalized for nearly a month, but has relapsed three times, and his health and life are endangered as the result of the destruction of his stem cells, the suit states.
A CHLA representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the suit, the hospital stored the boy’s stem cells in a freezer that CHLA knew was already nearly two decades past its life expectancy. The problem was compounded by CHLA’s alleged decision to intentionally disable the alarm system that was intended to monitor the freezer and alert CHLA personnel if the temperature in its ancient freezer rose to unsafe levels, the plaintiffs say.
“It was completely avoidable,” plaintiffs’ attorney Adam Wolf said during a news conference announcing the filing of the suit. “Fifty-six children who were fighting cancer had the rug pulled out from under them by the institution that was supposed to be helping them.”
The stem cells “were both a lifeline and a safety net” for his clients’ son, and “CHLA destroyed that,” Wolf alleged.
Linda Wratten said she believes the hospital breached its obligations.
“We trusted Children’s Hospital Los Angeles with our son’s precious stem cells because we believed their claims of excellence and high standards,” she said. “Now, we live in terror that CHLA’s misconduct could cost us our son’s life when he needs the stem cells that they destroyed. This is a complete violation of our faith and trust; it’s catastrophic and no parent should ever have to experience this.”
Timothy Wratten added, “Our son has been fighting cancer since he was 13 months old, and it’s unthinkable that CHLA would use an ancient cryogenic freezer that should have been replaced decades ago.”
“The fact that they turned off the alarms on this freezer when our son’s stem cells were being held in there is just inconceivable to me,” he said. “Nothing can replace our son’s stem cells that were destroyed that day, but we can fight beside our son to hold CHLA accountable and make sure this never happens again.”
The loss of the cells inflicted a huge toll on the plaintiffs, according to their court papers.
“They now live in constant fear with the anguish of knowing the safety net E.F. suffered so terribly to preserve is gone because of CHLA’s intentional disregard for and violation of its promises,” the suit states.