(SALT LAKE CITY) — The University of Utah announced Wednesday that it is reviewing how convicted felon Tom Lippert, a former medical technician of the two laboratories at the university’s now-defunct fertility clinic, was able to father the child of a couple who received treatment there years earlier.
“We sympathize with the anxiety this family has experienced. We do not know how this occurred and are carefully reviewing the concerns raised,” the university said in a statement on its website. “We take responsibility for this situation and the uncertainty it has created, and want to provide information to our patients, and to patients of RMTI who believed they were in the care of the University.”
This was the first time the university had made comments about the Lippert case involving Pam and John Branum, who uncovered the nightmare this year when they performed DNA tests and learned that their daughter Annie’s biological father was Lippert.
“It shakes your world, absolutely, because everything that you knew to be true, all of a sudden wasn’t,” Pam Branum told ABC News’ 20/20 in a recent interview.
Hoping to start a family, the couple received fertility treatment at the University of Utah Community Laboratory and the Reproductive Medical Technologies, Inc. (RMTI), 23 years ago in Salt Lake City.
Lippert, a convicted kidnapper, worked at the clinic at the 1980s and 1990s and was responsible for preparing sperm samples. He died in 1999.
While attending college, Annie Branum, now 21, became interested in genealogy.
“I thought it was really interesting…how it tells you about your health. It tells you where you come from,” Annie Branum told 20/20.
The entire Branum family took a DNA test, and when the results came in, comparison charts of John and Annie Branum’s DNA indicated that he was not her biological father.
“It took a very long time for it to sink in…trying to comprehend what it meant that he wasn’t my father, and then, who is?” Annie Branum said.
A genetic genealogist in California helped the family search all available DNA databases, discovering a single match with Annie Branum’s DNA and a woman in Minnesota. After contacting the woman, she revealed that her cousin, Tom Lippert, used to work at a fertility clinic in Salt Lake City.
The university revealed that that overlap between the university’s lab and RMTI has made it difficult to determine who was ultimately accountable. Both labs employed Lippert.
Since learning of what happened to the Branum family, the University of Utah set up a hotline for patients with any questions and is offering paternity testing to patients who were under the university’s or RMTI’s care during the relevant time period.
“I wouldn’t wish this on any other family,” John Branum said.
A panel of doctors and medical ethicists has also been assembled by the university to review medical records, protocols and ethical issues. While it has been gathering documents from the time of the incident, the university said records from that time are incomplete.
“It didn’t take me too long to remember that, you know, my dad is my dad, regardless of whether or not he’s biologically related to me,” Annie Branum said. “He’s the one who raised me.”
“It makes me realize that biological links aren’t what makes a family,” said Pam Branum.
Watch the full story on ABC News’ 20/20 Friday, Jan. 24, at 10 p.m. ET.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
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