The donor didn't know he had the gene and showed no symptoms of heart disease. In fact, he had a physical and was tested for a number of infectious and transmittable diseases before he donated his sperm, but none of that detected his heart condition.
When a Francisco sperm bank received multiple donations from the same man, little did they know he had a genetic heart problem. Not until the children were born did they figure it out.
The donor, was in his 20s when he donated his sperm from 1990 to 1991. Since then, he is known to have produced 24 offspring, 22 from his sperm donations and two with his wife. Of the 24, 9 have tested positive for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition that thickens the heart and makes it harder to pump blood.
One of the gene-positive children died at age 2. Two others have developed symptoms, with one getting a defibrillator. The rest of the children are at increased risk for problems. Nelson Schiller is the sperm donor's doctor who co-authored the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"He had no idea he had a heart condition. Nothing. He was perfectly healthy," says Dr. Schiller, M.D., from UCSF's department of cardiology.
Dr. Schiller now recommends that sperm banks require sperm donors to undergo an EKG. The simple and inexpensive test can detect most hypertrophic cardiomyopathy cases. He also says sperm banks should limit the number of donations it receives from individuals.
"Because if there is an abnormality, as yet unknown, the chances of spreading it are ever so great, so using a donor many times is bad," says Dr. Schiller.
Nancy Hersh is an attorney who specializes in fertility cases. She says this is just one more example why there needs to be changes in the fertility industry.
"In this particular industry, the fertility industry as a whole, there are no regulations, it's all voluntary and we see one mistake after another," says Hersh.
As for the San Francisco sperm bank involved in this case, it since been giving all prospective donors an EKG.
By the way, this is the second documented case of a genetic condition being inherited through sperm donation. The first involved a rare blood disease.