Children’s Hospital sued over freezer malfunction

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — In one of five lawsuits filed Aug. 19 against Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a couple alleges negligence in 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., also alleges fraudulent concealment and breach of contract.

Four similar lawsuits also were filed against the hospital by other plaintiffs.

The Los Angeles couple’s son, like other children whose stem cells were destroyed in the freezer malfunction last summer, suffers from neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer for which stem cell treatment is vital, according to the Wrattens’ suit. His cancer was discovered in 2014 and by that time had spread throughout his body, according to his parents.

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.

Children’s Hospital spokesman Lorenzo Bonet issued a statement which said the hospital is “committed to working toward a positive outcome for all involved.”

We are making every effort to offer guidance and support to impacted patients and their families,” the statement said. “We remain deeply sorry for the loss of blood stem cells resulting from the failure of a freezer used to store unused cells collected in the course of caring for these patients and we apologize for our mishandling of outreach to the affected families.”

In the past year, the hospital replaced the freezer that malfunctioned, upgraded the sensor monitoring and alert system, improved checking of power supply sources, increased the maintenance schedule and trained the engineering team and laboratory staff on the new system, according to Bonet.

According to the Wratten suit, the hospital stored their son’s stem cells in a freezer the hospital knew was already nearly two decades past its life expectancy. The problem was compounded by the hospital’s alleged decision to intentionally disable the alarm system that was intended to monitor the freezer and alert hospital 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 stated.