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Octomom BH Doctor Investigated

The birth of octuplets to Nadya Sulemon on Jan. 26 was a medical marvel, if a little disconcerting given what has traditionally been believed to be the limits of the human uterus.

What followed was nothing short of media hysteria.  Granted, some of the coverage was to satisfy natural curiosity. After, all, how often does a woman give birth to what is arguably a litter?”  Especially one in which for the first time in history all the infants survived beyond the first few hours.  Nearly a month later, the six boys and two girls are doing well.  

The young mother asked for and was given privacy.  But, reporters being reporters, her name and address were discovered.  So was the fact she lives with her parents in a small house with her other six children, all under the age of 8. Add to that her apparent obsession with looking like Angelina Jolie-and you have a story that takes on a life of its own.  Bits and pieces of information were revealed daily, sometimes several times a day, and Nadya Sulemon finally agreed to be interviewed by NBC News.

While watching one of the many stories about Sulemon on various newscasts, I suddenly realized I had interviewed her in May 2006 when I was a health reporter for KTLA News.

She looked much different then and she was using her former married name, Nadia Gutierrez.  I met her at the Beverly Hills’ office of her fertility specialist, Dr. Michael Kamrava.  

The story I was covering was about his new In Vitro Fertilization procedure, called Sub Endometrial Embryo Delivery, or SEED method.

The interview with Dr. Kamrava was straightforward.  He explained his technique, which essentially involves visually guiding the embryo and then placing it in a specially created “pocket” in the uterine lining to ensure the embryo will implant where it should.

Dr. Kamrava selected the patient for me to interview.  This is common when doing a story, so I went to his office with no concerns about the patient I would meet.

When I was introduced to Ms. Gutierrez/Sulemon, I did a silent double take.  In front of me stood a pregnant woman, clearly no older than 29 or 30 with three small children.  

At first I thought there must be a mistake, but no, she was, in fact the SEED patient.   My surprise dramatically increased when this young mother informed me she was pregnant with twins and that she was in the midst of her fifth SEED/IVF pregnancy with Dr. Kamrava.  When I asked if she and her husband were excited, she explained she was single and was doing this all on her own.

Since time was short, I was unable to pursue the psychology of the story and went ahead with the science aspect of a potentially exciting new development in IVF for infertile women.  The story gained some public interest for Dr. Kamrava’s procedure and I went on to cover other stories.

Fast forward to Sunday Feb. 8, 2009.  I called a friend on the KTLA assignment desk and told her about my May 2006 interview with Sulemon.  KTLA aired my interview that night and again Monday morning. The news media leaped into action.  Now they knew the name of the fertility doctor, and he was fair game.  

Sulemon told NBC the same doctor performed all her IVF treatments.  Reporters and photographers sat in the hallway outside Dr.Kamrava’s office, they staked out his office building on Wilshire Boulevard and his home, hoping to get a statement.

The best they got was when they were able to surround him as he walked to his car. He told reporters they should watch him on TV because he had made a deal to talk.  When asked with whom, he replied: “CBS.” No one has seen him on CBS and the iron is cooling, except with those people who question his ethics.  

I called Dr. Kamrava early the morning of Feb. 9 and he picked up his phone. He really didn’t understand the implications of being “outed” to the media.  He wasn’t unpleasant but extremely arrogant, suggesting this barrage of photographers and reporters would drive new business to his clinic because the world would see what a great procedure he had developed.

He did say he felt caught in the middle because embryos belong to a woman and she makes the final decision about implantation.  While never specifically referring to Sulemon, Dr. Kamrava said he couldn’t refuse to implant a woman’s embryos.  

He believes this is a no-win situation that could best be resolved if the Society For Assisted Reproductive Technology would establish mandatory rules by which physicians must abide.

What Dr. Kamrava clearly did not anticipate was the dogged persistence of the media in uncovering every last bit of dirt on the person who leaves them standing around for hours then breezes past them like they aren’t even there.  By the end of the day, the world knew Dr. Kamrava is not board-certified in any medical specialty, had multiple lawsuits filed against him at different times, and his clinic has one of the worst success rates of any fertility clinic country.  

Additionally, the media uproar over the woman known as “Octo-Mom” and her doctor prompted the Medical Board of California to begin an investigation into Sulemon’s births “to see if we can substantiate a violation of the standard of care.”

Whatever the outcome, the lives at stake here are those of the 14 children Sulemon has chosen to bring into this world.  We, the public, are the audience on a large stage watching what is really a terribly sad story unfold.  Three of Sulemon’s older six children suffer with disabilities.  The octuplets were born nine weeks prematurely and it is likely they will have health issues.  

Add to that the apparent disconnect from the real world displayed by Sulemon in her interviews and we see a potential tragedy evolving on a daily basis.

Everyone has an opinion, but few solutions. Sulemon’s parents clearly don’t know what to do anymore.  And they are clearly not able to care for eight more hungry little mouths.  

It’s easy to talk about what their care will cost taxpayers, but in the larger picture, what kind of life will these children–all 14 of them–really have?  The outcry against both Sulemon and Kamrava is so loud the children are almost invisible.  The infants rest in incubators, blessedly unaware of the furor

For the record, although my contract with KTLA wasn’t renewed and I left last fall not by my choice, I let the news department know about my 2006 interview because I believe the actions of both Sulemon and Kamrava were highly irresponsible and those who are going to suffer are the 14 children who are least able to do anything about the situation and who are going to have to live with the decisions made by the adults responsible for their well-being.

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