At Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ trial on Tuesday, an Arizona woman testified that she could have terminated her pregnancy because of a faulty blood test she received from the Silicon Valley startup’s finger-prick system.
Brittany Gould, a medical assistant in Mesa, was the first patient to take the stand in Holmes’ wire fraud case in San Jose, California. Prosecutors say Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and Theranos’ former president, defrauded patients and investors by claiming their devices could run scores of tests with just a few drops of blood.
Those tests, however, were often inaccurate, and in some cases, falsely showed people had HIV or prostate cancer, according to the feds.
In Gould’s case, Theranos’ results falsely indicated she had miscarried.
The 31-year-old mom told jurors that in September 2014, she visited a Walgreens pharmacy in Arizona for a Theranos blood test. After having three consecutive miscarriages, she said she wanted to ensure all was well with her current pregnancy.
She consulted with her nurse practitioner—Audra Zachman, who also testified for the government on Tuesday—and chose Theranos because it was more affordable than other labs. This was especially appealing, she said, because of her high insurance deductible.
But Zachman would soon call her with bad news: the Theranos lab results were in and her pregnancy hormones were dropping; she’d likely lost another baby.
“She told me your numbers are falling, unfortunately, and that I was miscarrying,” a shaken Gould testified, according to CNBC.
Per other reports from within the courtroom, Gould said she and Zachman weighed their options, including getting more tests and terminating the pregnancy.
Gould took additional blood tests with a traditional lab, which contradicted Theranos’ bad blood work. She gave birth to a healthy girl eight months later.
Theranos, Gould testified, “couldn’t be trusted.” She told jurors she never used the startup again: “You can’t provide accurate patient care with inaccurate results.”
Gould’s story was highlighted by the Wall Street Journal last month. She said she took a pair of Theranos tests—both of which revealed low levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG. “The loss of all these babies and pregnancies, and going through the experience of thinking I’m losing another one, is a lot,” she told the Journal.
Zachman, a nurse practitioner at an OB/GYN office, told jurors that she began sending patients to Theranos after learning of their technology in 2014. A Theranos representative had pitched their machines to her medical practice as a cheaper, more convenient alternative to needle blood draws.
Yet the results of Gould’s tests “stood out as such a red flag,” Zachman testified, adding that she ordered another test from a different company, which showed her patient’s “pregnancy was moving in a viable way.”
Zachman said she stopped sending patients to Theranos and ultimately filed a complaint with the company. “I felt very uncertain of the validity of the results and felt uncomfortable as a provider continuing to have my patients use it,” she testified.
She said that Christian Holmes, Elizabeth’s brother, reached out to her following her complaint and suggested Gould’s incorrect test was due to “human error,” rather than problems with the technology itself. Theranos then sent back a supposedly corrected test result that moved a decimal point and didn’t alleviate her concerns, she said.
In a letter, Christian Holmes assured Zachman that “these errors are extremely rare,” according to the Mercury News.
Under questioning from Elizabeth Holmes’ lawyer Katherine Trefz, Zachman testified that Theranos offered to do a follow-up study into the blood tests with her clinic and that she helped design it. Other practitioners at the hospital, Trefz pointed out, continued utilizing Theranos for patients’ lab work even after Gould’s imprecise results.
Still, Zachman testified that after the problem with Gould’s tests, “There wasn’t much that could restore my faith” in the startup.
Holmes and Balwani have pleaded not guilty to nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, they face 20 years behind bars.
Balwani will face trial separately early next year.