When Kelli Rowlette received the results from a DNA sample she had sent to a popular genealogy website, she assumed there had been a mistake.
The test showed that her DNA matched a sample from a doctor more than 500 miles away — and, though she had never heard of him, Ancestry.com predicted a parent-child relationship between the two.
At the time, Rowlette was not aware that more than 36 years ago, her parents had struggled to conceive.
She did not know her mother had undergone artificial insemination, nor did she — or her parents — know her mother’s fertility doctor had allegedly used his own sperm to get her pregnant with Rowlette.
The account comes from a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Idaho. In it, Rowlette accused Gerald E. Mortimer, a now-retired obstetrician gynecologist in Idaho Falls, of fraud and medical negligence, among other things.
Mortimer could not immediately be reached for comment, and it’s not clear whether he has an attorney.
In the early 1980s, Rowlette’s parents, Howard Fowler and Sally Ashby, were married and living in Idaho Falls, not far from the Wyoming border.
The pair were having a hard time conceiving. Mortimer, an OB/GYN, diagnosed Fowler with a low sperm count and Ashby with a tipped uterus, in which the uterus tilts toward the spine, according to the lawsuit.
The doctor recommended that Ashby undergo a procedure in which she would be inseminated with sperm from her husband and an anonymous donor who matched the couple’s specifications, the lawsuit states. The couple requested a donor who was in college and taller than 6 feet with brown hair and blue eyes — and Mortimer told them that he had found a donor matching their description, the suit says.
But the lawsuit claims that when Mortimer performed the procedure in summer 1980, he used his own sperm. He did not match the couple’s specifications.
Ashby became pregnant and, in May 1981, Mortimer delivered his own child — never divulging the secret, according to the lawsuit.
Mortimer remained Ashby’s doctor for several years until the she and her husband moved to Washington state.
“Dr. Mortimer cried when Ms. Ashby informed him they were moving,” according to the lawsuit. “Dr. Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ms. Ashby or Mr. Fowler.”
It wasn’t until last year that the decades-long secret started to unravel — when Rowlette sent in a DNA sample and it told her something was off.
In July, Rowlette, from Benton County, Washington, received the notification about the match from Ancestry.com. She told her mother, expressing her “disappointment in the unreliability of the service” — and her mother recognized the doctor’s name, according to the lawsuit. [ … ]