Massachusetts resident Marisa Cloutier-Bristol said she found out she and her late husband had a frozen embryo when she received a letter in 2017 about paying for its storage.
“I thought this is a crazy mistake, this has to be a mass mailing because I don’t have a frozen embryo,” Cloutier-Bristol recalled of receiving the letter about billing for storage of frozen embryos from Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Cloutier-Bristol is now suing the hospital, seeking unspecified damages.
“I felt like I was now grieving a child I didn’t even know existed, a child I could have had,” she said. “That was a piece of John. It was a sibling for my son Brett.”
Cloutier-Bristol and her late husband, John Cloutier, underwent three unsuccessful rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in 2003.
According to Cloutier-Bristol’s lawsuit, the couple was told the four embryos harvested were not viable. The couple decided at the time to stop IVF treatments and focus on their son.
Three years later, Cloutier died suddenly in his sleep.
“My world was totally turned upside down,” said Cloutier-Bristol. "We were completely devastated, to say the least."
Cloutier-Bristol eventually found love, marrying a man named Michael Bristol. They tried to expand their family through IVF but were unsuccessful.
"I was well aware of the history and knew going into this that it was going to be a long shot," Bristol said of the IVF process. "But [it] was something that we were going to try."
Cloutier-Bristol is now paying $500 to keep the embryo stored. She is unable to make any decisions about the embryo since Cloutier's death, according to court documents.
“She wants accountability for what happened, for the fact that this embryo was in their possession for 13 years and she was never notified about it,” said Jeffrey N. Catalano, Cloutier-Bristol’s attorney. “And the third thing is an assurance that this will not happen to someone else.”
Cloutier-Bristol said she is now struggling with depression and seeing a counselor.
“This doesn't just affect me. It affects my family," she said. "It affects my son who said, 'Jeez, I could have had a sibling?' That kills me."
"They need to understand that this is not a piece of furniture, this is a human life," Cloutier-Bristol added. "And I am grieving a baby that I could have had. In reality, I'm never going to have closure with this."
Women & Infants Hospital told ABC News in a statement that it will not comment on this or any patient’s care due to privacy laws.
“We stand behind the expertise and professionalism of our entire fertility center team, whose longstanding success stems from a sincere and passionate commitment to assist women and men in building a family," Dr. Maureen G. Phipps, chief of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Women & Infants Hospital, said in a statement. "As a highly respected team of health care providers, we take our responsibility to our patients and our community very seriously. We are dedicated to providing high quality care with clinical expertise and compassion."