Millionaire Father Of Three Receives A Diagnosis That Raises Questions
At 55 years old, Richard Mason learned he was suffering from cystic fibrosis. It wasn't easy to take in, as he had three young sons with his ex-wife.
The thing is, once Richard learned of his medical condition, he began to suspect his former wife had been lying to him for their entire marriage. So, he began to investigate.
A Successful Business Man And Father Of Three
At 55-years-old, Richard Mason was a successful businessman living in the UK. One of his biggest ventures was co-founding a popular website, MoneySupermarket.com, which many people use to compare prices while shopping.
Richard and his wife, Kate, met while they were both working at a bank. They fell in love, got married, and had three sons. Richard worked hard and lived a good life. He never could have expected everything to fall apart so quickly.
The Couple Divorced As The Kids Left The House
Richard and his wife Kate had three boys together: Will, and twins Ed and Joel. When Will was 23-years-old and the twins were 19, Richard and Kate made the tough decision to separate.
While their marriage was no longer serving them, they both remained close to their boys and knew that they were doing what's best for the family. With all three of their sons over the age of 18, the couple officially divorced in early 2008.
Kate Pushed For More Money In The Divorce
While the couple mutually agreed to divorce, once the proceedings began, Kate kept pushing for Richard to pay more money. They had agreed in the financial settlement that Kate would receive a $5 million lump sum.
The $5 million Richard would be paying also included money for private school for all three of their sons. He didn't understand why Kate wanted more money. He said that his ex-wife "hounded me for years... and tried to make me pay more."
Eight Years Later, The Truth Is Revealed
Although the couple had been divorced since 2008, it wasn't until 2016 that Richard learned that his ex-wife had been keeping a major secret from him for their entire marriage.
What's worse is that she didn't admit her wrongdoings. No, he found out about Kate's massive secret after going to see the doctor for a routine health check-up. While he knew she was after his money, he never expected to learn that she had been deceiving him for so long.
Richard Was Diagnosed With Cystic Fibrosis
At 55-years-old, Richard went to the doctor for a routine health check-up. He thought that he would be in and out in a short matter of time, but the doctor decided to run some extra tests while he was there.
Richard was taken aback when the doctor delivered the hard news that he had cystic fibrosis. He was not expecting anything out of the ordinary to come from the doctor appointment and this was pretty tough news to swallow.
The Disease Is Genetic
Being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis was a scary realization for Richard at this point in his life. His sister had been diagnosed with the same disease, so he knew there was a chance he'd have it too.
Cystic fibrosis causes frequent lung infections which leads to damaged lungs and decreased lung capacity, making it hard to breathe. Being a genetic disease, Richard was immediately worried that he had passed it on to his three sons.
The Doctor Said That His Sons Wouldn't Have It
Richard then worried that he had passed on the genes for cystic fibrosis to his three sons. It's a tough question for a parent to ask a doctor. Richard was incredibly worried that one of his kids would have to face the same diagnosis.
As he sat there, trying to process all of the information he was being given, and figuring out the important questions to ask the doctor, he asked about his sons.
Men With Cystic Fibrosis Are Infertile
Then, the doctor delivered the news that Richard wasn't expecting at all. Richard recalls the life-changing conversation, "When the discussion then turned to fertility, he said, 'Look, yourself and Emma (Richard's second wife) you know- you're gonna have difficulty having children because you are, as a man with cystic fibrosis, infertile.'"
At that point, Richard thought that he might have received an incorrect diagnosis of having cystic fibrosis. After all, he had three healthy sons.
The Diagnosis Must Be Wrong
Richard vocalized his thought to his doctor. "Well," he said, "you must have the diagnosis wrong because I've already got three boys." Clearly, he would need to do more testing, right?
He recalls in an interview, "I actually felt pleased to be able to tell him this, because in my mind it proved his diagnosis was wrong." The doctor's eyes grew wide and he and Richard knew what he was going to say next.
The Diagnosis Was Correct. His Ex-Wife Had Been Lying.
Through the doctor's silence, Richard realized what he was going to say. The cystic fibrosis diagnosis was correct. It was Richard's ex-wife who was lying. It felt like his entire world was crashing down.
Not only had Richard received terrible news concerning his health, but the 55-year-old also learned on the same day that his three sons weren't biologically his. For all this time, Kate had been lying to Richard. But now he knew the truth.
He Began Putting Things Together
Learning this while sitting at the doctor's office, realizations flashed through Richard's head. He began thinking of all of the times that Kate could have been lying to him, and sneaking off with another man.
He thought back to times that should have been a red flag. But Richard had pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind, trusting that his wife was telling him the truth. How could she do this?
Had He Ignored The Red Flags?
Before his cystic fibrosis diagnosis, Richard had never considered that his ex-wife could have been having an affair during their marriage. Now, looking back on it, it was entirely possible that this was all going on under his nose.
Richard was a hard-working, successful businessman, often working late nights. So he didn't think anything of it when Kate would occasionally have a work-related matter come up. Like that time Kate stayed in London for a night during a "work trip" after she said that her flight had been canceled.
People Didn't Think The Twins Looked Like Him
Before that day at the doctor's office, Richard had never considered that his boys wouldn't be his own. Now that he was being told he was infertile, thoughts started raising through his head. He remembered people commenting on how much the twins looked like his ex-wife Kate when they were born, but not like Richard.
At the time, he brushed off the comments. But now, they seemed to be louder than ever.
Out Of Nowhere, Kate Wanted The Kids To Be Jewish
When Kate became pregnant with the couple's first child, they had been married for seven years. During that time, Kate never mentioned wanting to teach their future kids Judaism, so Richard found it surprising that she brought it up when she was pregnant with Will.
Instead of teaching the kids Christianity and getting them baptized, as both Richard and Kate had been, she instead met with a Rabbi and taught the kids about Judaism. They also ended up giving all three of their children Jewish middle names.
He Began Thinking Of Who The Boys Looked Like
So many thoughts were running through Richard's head as he began putting the pieces of the past together. Then he began thinking about who the boys looked like, other than Kate.
He recognized they shared similarities to someone that he knew, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Was he really certain that Kate had been having an affair with another man all this time? Richard knew that he had to get to the bottom of it.
He Suspected Who It Was
One he had a minute to process everything, he narrowed it down to who he believed his ex-wife was having an affair with during their marriage. The first clue was that she was probably cheating on him while she was away on her business trips.
That meant that she could be cheating with someone at her work. Richard thought of one man, a co-worker of Kate's, who he thought the boys resembled. Then, the last piece of the puzzle came together when he remembered that the man was Jewish.
Richard Sent An Email To Kate, Pressing Her To Confess
Being that the couple was no longer married, Richard wasn't able to come home and confront Kate. He decided to send his ex-wife an email, explaining what he had learned at the doctor's office that day, and demanding that she provide some answers.
He boldly wrote, "I went to the Liverpool Chest Hospital today... to finally receive my diagnosis that I have cystic fibrosis. In their experience, they have never had a male with CF who has fathered a child let alone three. It is 98% certain that I am not the father of any children."
When He Didn't Hear Back, He Sent Off Another Email
Being handed his diagnosis was tough enough. Now left wondering if his three kids were biologically his, Richard just wanted the truth. He felt that Kate owed him that. After she didn't reply to the first email, Richard sent a second.
He wrote, "I was hoping that you could relieve me of further indignity by letting me know now if I am the father. I am happy to go along with your advice as to how best tell the boys. But, if you force me to go through these extra tests then I shall be telling them as I wish."
She Denied It
Kate replied back to Richard's second email. In her reply, she denied that she had an affair during their marriage, and that there was any chance that the boys were biologically anyone but his.
She wrote, "Of course the boys are yours, no matter what the science might suggest." As Richard had stated, if she didn't tell him the truth, he would go through with the test, and confront his sons about it. After reading Kate's reply, he didn't believe her. And so, he decided to go through with the tests.
Richard Called His Eldest Son
Richard decided that he would contact his oldest son, Will, about the matter. He was nearly certain that he was not the 23-year-old's biological father. He needed a DNA test to be sure. He also needed to let his sons know about his cystic fibrosis diagnosis. And just like had been dealt to him, Richard was going to have both conversations on the same day.
Richard recalls of his conversation with Will, "I told him I'd just been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which he took surprisingly calmly."
Richard Tells Will His Suspicions
During the same conversation with his son Will, Richard recalls, "And I said, 'Yes but one of the things that I've just been told is that it is extremely unlikely that someone with cystic fibrosis could father a child.'"
Then, during the hardest conversation that Richard has ever had to have, something unexpected happened. Richard said, "He said, 'I'm already ahead of you, Dad. You're saying you're probably not my father?'"
Richard Told Him Everything
"It would have been the hardest sentence to utter, and he did it for me," Richard said of his conversation with Will. He expressed that he would always be his 'dad' even if he wasn't biologically related to Will.
No one ever dreams of having that conversation with a parent when you're 23-years-old. It was a heavy topic. Richard says, "It was very emotional but I was also very angry."
It Was Hurtful To Learn He Didn't Have Any Biological Kids
For 23 years, Richard believed that he had children. He thought that he had passed down his genes to the next generation, and that his three sons carried his bloodline. Learning the truth was shocking.
Richard was also extremely hurt with this fact because his cystic fibrosis diagnosis meant that he might not have as much time left as he thought he did. Having to have both conversations at the same time was a lot to handle.
Will Confronted His Mom
After speaking with Richard, Will confronted his mom Kate about what he had learned. He asked her if she was sure that Richard was his father. Although she lied to Richard, she didn't lie to Will. Kate confessed that she had been having an affair.
She admitted the affair started during the couple's marriage, and that it was likely Will's biological father was someone other than who he thought was his dad. Richard's suspicions of Kate having an affair had been true after all.
The Affair Lasted For 20 Years
Finally, Kate had admitted that she had an affair. The affair started after they had gotten married-- so who was it? She admitted that she had met him the same way that she had met Richard, working at a bank.
Just as Richard thought, the man Kate had been seeing was someone she worked with at Barclays bank. For more than two decades she kept her affair a secret from everyone.
She Said She Still Believed Richard Was Their Father
Although Kate admitted to having an affair with someone that she worked with, she insisted that the boys were Richard's biological sons. Of course, he didn't believe her and decided to go through with the tests.
At this point, Richard felt as though his entire life had been a lie. His ex-wife had been living a double life and leading him to believe that the three boys he raised for all of their lives were his. He needed to know the absolute truth.
Richard Goes Through With The Tests
In order to sort everything out, Richard had to take several tests. Under the guidance of Roger Terrell, a paternity fraud expert, Richard first took tests to check his fertility levels. The test results confirmed that Richard was unable to father children.
Then, already fearing the worst, he would need to submit a DNA test. He would also need to get DNA samples from his sons, to see if they matched up.
He's Not The Father Of The Twins
His two youngest boys, 19-year-old twins Ed and Joel, agreed to take the DNA tests to see if Richard was their biological father. Once again confirming Richard's suspicions, the boys' DNA tests showed that Richard was not their father.
It was the ultimate proof that Kate had been carrying on a long affair during their marriage, and lied to Richard about the kids being his. Richard was devastated to learn that the twins weren't his biological sons.
Will Refused To Take The Test
Will was the first of the three sons to learn that Richard might not be his biological father. The twins were the first to take the DNA test, and Will heard the results. But when Richard and the paternity fraud expert reached out to Will to take the DNA test, he refused.
Will said, "As far as I'm concerned, he's my Dad and that's that." Clearly, Richard had a positive impact on Will's life, and Will was proud to be able to call Richard his dad.
Will Told Richard Not To Sue Their Mom
Richard would have had a better case for taking legal action against Kate if he had Will's DNA sample, but there was something else. Richard recalls his conversation with Will: "My eldest son told me, 'Dad, if you sue Mum, I will never speak to you again.'"
Richard went through with the lawsuit against Kate and admits that Will stayed true to his word, and hasn't spoken to him since.
The Twins Still Support Their Dad
Although Richard's oldest son is angry about the lawsuit, twins Ed and Joel are on good terms with their Dad. Richard recalls a letter they wrote him: "Dad, as I explained from the beginning you would never not be dad to me regardless of all of this."
He continued, "Of course I'll stay in touch, that will never change... I'm always here for you too and you will always be Dad. Love you."
Richard Won The Paternal Fraud Case
When all was said and done, Richard won the paternal fraud lawsuit against Kate. The court ordered her to pay over $300,000. Part of the agreement that was settled in court was that the father of the boys shall not be revealed.
Richard believed that the boys have a right to know who their biological father is, but agreed to the terms. He's currently undergoing treatment for cystic fibrosis and has reported that his health is improving.
The Life-Threatening Diagnosis
Chris Long, a resident of Reno, Nevada, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome in 2015. But to Chris, those scientific terms translated to blood cancer. The father of two had abnormal tumor growth in his bone marrow, which infected his blood cells.
Those who have acute myeloid leukemia (AML) have a 24% chance of survival. The only treatment is to combine chemotherapy with a bone marrow transplant. While Chris considered his options, he understood that his future seemed bleak.
What Is A Bone Marrow Transplant?
During a bone marrow transplant, cancerous bone marrow is replaced with healthy marrow. Because bone marrow creates red and white blood cells, patients require an operation before their blood becomes too unhealthy.
Before Chris could receive the transplant, he had to undergo chemo to destroy the harmful cells. Then, he had to find a donor whose cells would not attack his body. Doing so was difficult, but fortunately, there are plenty of donors around the world.
Finding The Right Donor Is Harder Than It Sounds
However, finding a bone marrow donor is more complicated than finding a blood donor. To find a match, doctors examine donors' human leukocyte antigen (HLA). HLA is a protein that the immune system uses to know which cells are yours and which are not.
Each person has six different HLA markers. Doctors can pinpoint your HLA through a DNA test by swabbing the inside of your cheek. If the six markers line up, the donor's cells will not be "foreign" to the patient's immune system.
An Unusual Bargain
Fortunately, Chris found his donor quickly--an anonymous man from Germany. At the time, Chris worked as an information technology employee at the Washoe County sheriff's department in Reno, Nevada. They were a world apart.
Chris's sad diagnosis spread around his office. When the news reached them, forensic scientists of Washoe County took an interest in his case. They offered Chris an unusual opportunity that would challenge the scientific community only a couple of years later.
Can Your DNA Change?
Renee Romero, who led the crime lab at Washoe County, heard about Chris's situation through a colleague. The situation raised a question that Renee had been mulling over: would a bone marrow transplant change Chris's DNA?
Renee spoke to Chris about the opportunity to partake in an experiment. "We need to swab the heck out of you before you have this procedure to see how this DNA takes over your body," she remembered telling him.
A Human Guinea Pig
After hearing Renee's proposal, Chris agreed. He welcomed the distraction from his fatal diagnosis and his difficult path to recovery. During the conversation, he reportedly told Renee, "I don't even know if I will live."
Regardless, Chris began the joint experiment. Acting as a human guinea pig, Chris allowed the scientists to take samples of his DNA before he underwent surgery. The scientists would continue to monitor Chris's DNA throughout his remission and recovery.
Results Came Faster Than Expected
After his bone marrow transplant, Chris spent four years in remission. But Renee and her crime lab colleagues monitored him throughout his journey. Four months in, they analyzed Chris's blood. His German donor's DNA had replaced the genetic code in his blood.
The scientists also swabbed Chris's cheek, lip, and tongue. The DNA in these areas was replaced by the donor's as well. The DNA swapping was already accelerating faster than the forensic scientists had expected.
How Chris Transformed Into Another Person
The forensic scientists tracked Chris's DNA samples over four years. Within months, swabs of his arms, legs, body, and face had been replaced by his donor's DNA. Oddly, these findings fluctuated throughout the study. Some swabs contained both Chris's and his donor's DNA.
An even more surprising find was that Chris's semen had its DNA replaced. By the end of the four years, every area of his body had new DNA except for his chest and head hair.
The Shock Of A Lifetime
These findings baffled the forensic scientists at the Washoe County sheriff's office. No one expected Chris's DNA to be entirely overtaken by his donor. As criminalist Darby Steinmetz said, "We were kind of shocked that Chris was no longer present at all."
Chris was also shocked about the findings--but not to the point of despair. He told the New York Times, "I thought it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear."
He Is A Real-Life Chimera
So what happened to Chris? The bone marrow transplant had made Chris a chimera--the scientific term for people with two sets of DNA. The term stems from the monster in Greek mythology that was a hybrid of three animals.
Before Chris's study, forensic scientists knew that specific medical procedures cause chimerism. But they never researched where the donor's DNA replaced the patient's in the body. The fact that 99% of Chris's DNA had changed raised questions among the medical community.
This Has Been Studied Before
Chimerism from bone marrow transplants has been researched before. In 2004, research in Bone Marrow Transplantation reported that marrow transplants replace at least some of the patient's blood DNA. Even blood transplants temporarily replace DNA in the patient's blood.
However, these studies have only analyzed DNA changes in blood. Before the study on Chris, scientists have not tested how a patient's DNA changes in the rest of their body. In this sense, his case defied all expectations.
Will Chris Remain The Same Person?
The implications of Chris's case reached scientists far beyond Nevada. One nagging question was: would Chris remain the same person with someone else's DNA? Dr. Andrew Rezvani, the blood and marrow transplant professional at Stanford University, says yes.
"Their brain and their personality should remain the same," he told the Independent.
For The Doctors, This Isn't An Issue
Although medical doctors understand the DNA change, they don't see it as an issue. As long as the transplant is successful, the change does not create any medical problems. The patient's medical history and mind do not change. So what's the issue?
For Renee and her colleagues, the DNA change does matter. As forensic scientists, they viewed Chris's case from the perspective of combating crime, and they knew that the DNA change could mean life or death for some.
...But It Could Throw Off Criminal Investigations
For forensic scientists, Chris's DNA change uncovered a new host of problems. When criminal investigators hunt down criminals, they rely on DNA swabs to lead to one person. What will happen if the DNA links to two people, one in Nevada and one ten years younger in Germany?
According to Brittney Chilton, a criminalist of the forensic science division, says that this DNA change could mislead investigators. It could result in someone being falsely accused of a crime they didn't do.
This Mix-Up Has Happened Before
In 2004, criminal investigators in Alaska thought they had caught a criminal when they uploaded a DNA sample to a database. There was just one problem: the man was in jail at the time of the crime. But DNA samples are flawless, right?
It turned out that the criminal's brother had received a bone marrow transplant. He was convicted, and a year later, crime detection scientist Abirami Chidambaram presented the case in 2005. It's the exact dilemma that Chilton was talking about.
But That's Not The Only Problem
According to Chilton, chimeras create another issue for the medical community. In 2008, research scholar Yongbin Eom tried to identify a victim of a car accident in Seoul, South Korea. His DNA showed that he was female--but his body was male.
It turned out that the victim received a bone marrow donation from his daughter. Chimeras have two sets of DNA: their original DNA and their donor's DNA. This may prevent medical investigators from properly identifying a body.
How Have Scientists Not Caught This Before?
Every year, thousands of people receive bone marrow transplants. The surgery is commonly recommended for patients with leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and lymphoma. Then how did this dilemma not surface before? Here's the thing: it has.
Bone marrow transfusions have interrupted criminal investigations before. Renee's study was the first in-depth research to explore DNA changes from a scientific perspective. The team presented Chris's case at the international forensic science conference in September of 2019.
Chimeras May Be Common (And In Trouble)
Studies suggest that chimerism may occur in 21% of triplets and 8% of twins. But these results don't explain how common the condition may be. If these chimera news stories hadn't come out, many people wouldn't know that chimerism even exists.
Most people don't take a paternity test to make sure that they're related to their biological family. As a result, many people could be chimeras and never know it. It only becomes an issue when a person's life is on the line.
Parents Could Lose Their Children
In some instances, chimerism may separate families. In 2002, Lydia Fairchild applied for child support. But the DNA tests said that she wasn't related to her children. During the case, she became pregnant with her third child--and the child still exhibited different DNA while in the womb!
Even though a judge arranged for a witness to be present for her third child's birth, the courts held her DNA tests above her doctor's testimony. Luckily, she was diagnosed as a chimera; otherwise, she would have lost her children.
What About Their Offspring?
Long's case raised another question. If a patient's DNA changed, and they had a child, would they create someone else's child? Renee surveyed three bone marrow transplant specialists for the answer to this question.
Although the experts agreed that it is an intriguing question, they highly doubted that a child's DNA would change. "There shouldn't be any way for someone to father someone else's child," reported Dr. Rezvani. After all, a donor's blood cells should not create new sperm cells.
Could Chris Have His Donor's Child?
If sperm isn't usually affected by transplants, why did Chris's change? According to Mehrdad Abedi, the doctor who treated Chris, his semen change likely resulted from his vasectomy. The fact that sperm couldn't move meant that their DNA would change.
If Chris hasn't had a vasectomy, would the same result occur? We don't know, and the scientists can't test this on Chris. DNA analyses of sperm have shown the donor's DNA instead of the patient's before. Time will tell.
Chimeras Can Occur Naturally
Human chimeras don't only result from bone marrow transplants. For instance, there's a case of a "vanishing twin," where one fraternal embryo dies early on. The remaining embryo absorbs the twin's DNA, resulting in two sets of DNA in the child.
During pregnancy, some women may retain some DNA from their baby. This phenomenon, called microchimerism, occurs in around 63% of women, even those over 94 years old. The New York Times says that microchimerism is "very common, if not universal."
But Identifying Chimeras Is Very Difficult
To make matters worse, it's not easy to tell if someone is a chimera. In 2015, parents discovered that their newborn's blood type and DNA did not match their parents'. They assumed that the clinic had used the wrong sperm.
Stanford geneticist Barry Starr recommended that the couple take a genetics test. Oddly, the test said that the father was the child's uncle. "Human chimerism is very common, but exquisitely difficult to identify, coming to light almost exclusively by accidents like this," biologist Charles Boklage told Buzzfeed News.
How This Study Impacted The Future
Chris's case has changed many peoples' opinions about DNA tests. Before, DNA tests were considered infallible in the courtroom. But the study suggests that common conditions may make DNA exams less foolproof than we assumed.
Chimeras have no issues in terms of health or medicine, but they create stumbling blocks for criminal investigators who rely on DNA tests to catch a perpetrator. With chimera cases coming to light, forensic scientists will have to redefine how they analyze DNA evidence.
Where Is Chris Now?
Chris Long recovered from his AML. He is now healthy and experiences no issues as a chimera (he is completely innocent!) He told the Independent that he planned a trip to Germany to thank his donor for saving his life.
Chris has not reported whether or not he'll continue working with the forensic scientists. However, Renee and her colleagues have suggested that they will continue to research the effects of chimerism -- specifically how it affects a patient's offspring.