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Woman Sues Hospital Over IVF Treatment, Frozen Embryo She Didn't Know Existed

NORTH ATTLEBORO (CBS) – If Marisa Cloutier-Bristol had her way, she would've had 10 kids. Instead she had one: her now college-age son Brett.

Brett wanted siblings, and Marisa and her husband John wanted to give them to him. So they tried In Vitro Fertilization at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

"It's exhausting," Cloutier-Bristol said. "I missed out on holidays. Because you're on call all the time. [The hospital calls] you and tells you what you need to do and where you need to be."

They tried three rounds of IVF, all unsuccessful. The final round was the closest the young family had come: with four embryos resulting from the process. Unfortunately, all were considered "abnormal" and therefore not viable for pregnancy.

It was after that third round of IVF that the young family of three walked away. "It was not an easy decision by any means," Cloutier-Bristol said. "We really struggled with it. But we knew that's what we had to do."

Marisa Cloutier-Bristol
Marisa Cloutier-Bristol (WBZ-TV)

Two years later, another nightmare began. John died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack at just 34-years-old. "My world had been completely shattered," Marisa said, fighting tears. "I was petrified on how I was ever going to be able to go on. How was my son going to grow up without a father?"

Marisa eventually remarried her now husband Mike. Though she was still feeling the emotional effects of her first round of IVF, the couple decided to try again, and went back to Women & Infants for the treatment.

This time, again, IVF was unsuccessful. The family of three – mom, son, and stepdad – walked away again.

Marisa Cloutier-Bristol moved forward, focused on her son Brett, and eventually left the pain of infertility in her past.

Unexpectedly, in August 2017, Marisa received a bill in the mail: a $500 bill for a single frozen embryo she thought she had left in 2004.

"This must be a mistake!" she thought. "This must be a mass mailing…there's no way this is mine." But the embryo was hers and her late husband John's, one previously considered "abnormal" in their final round of IVF in 2004.

Now, 13 years later, Marisa was being asked to pay to store it, when she didn't even know the embryo existed. "I was furious," she said. "A lot of things came back to me. The loss of my husband came back to me. Our hopes and dreams to have another child came back to me."

Cloutier-Bristol is suing Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. The federal lawsuit was filed in January, and seeks an undisclosed amount of damages.

Carol Wheeler, MD, the interim director at Women & Infants told WBZ in a statement that she can't comment on the specific case, but that the hospital's "approach to care is guided by comprehensive policies and procedures that evolve as our services, technology, and the needs of our patients change,: adding that the hospital "maintain[s] a commitment to open and honest communication with all patients about all aspects of their fertility treatment."

As if the disclosure of the frozen embryo didn't upset Marisa enough, she found out through her lawyer that she has no legal ownership of the frozen embryo. Because, at the time, she and her late husband were never asked to sign consent forms or contracts, she now -- according to her attorney -- has no rights to the embryo.

Cloutier-Bristol says she's suing, and speaking out, to make sure this never happens to another mother or aspiring mother. "You put your trust in these doctors at the hospital," she told WBZ. "You're there because you want a child so badly. You're giving everything you can to get one and putting your trust in them… It's not a piece of furniture that you just keep in storage. It's a life."

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