Heart-Stopping Sperm Births New Rules for Donors

Donor passed on deadly trait

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Model of human sperms and egg cell

    A San Francisco sperm bank is adding a new layer of testing for its donors after discovering one of them passed on the threat of sudden death along with his gift of life, the American Medical Association reported.

    Donors already undergo a battery of tests and provide complete medical history to sperm clinics under voluntary guidelines that help weed out infectious and genetic diseases. But after this latest case, the San Francisco clinic implemented another test -- one that will determine whether donors are carrying the gene for a rare heart problem.

    The test is too late for nine of 24 children who are living with the threat of death that could come at any minute because of a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. One of the children died and two are already showing signs of the misfortunate trait.

    "Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy thickens the heart and makes it harder to pump blood." Study co-author Heidi Rehm of Harvard Medical School said. "It affects about one in 500 people; many more likely have the genetic defect without symptoms."

    It's often the same disease that causes athletes to drop dead on football fields and basketball courts. Some people who have the disease will show symptoms, like shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat. Usually, however, the disease is never discovered until after death.

    If it's detected, it's treatable with medication and an implanted defribillator. One of the children born of the donor sperm is getting a defribillator.

    The donor didn't know he was carrying the gene until after one of the children was diagnosed. Two of the children resulting from the faulty sperm -- including one born to the donor's wife -- are already showing signs of the disease.

    The case puts perspective on genetic engineering in a time when parents are choosing sperm donors who can pass on genes that make their kids smart and successful, fast on the field or look like celebrities. The parents who are raising children with a heart that could stop beating at any minute would likely tell those picky parents to just be happy they have a healthy child.