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Spotlight was an ordeal for California parents

Published: Saturday, Nov. 22 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Life is pretty much routine for the Frustaci family of Riverside.

A dozen years after Patti Frustaci gave birth to septuplets, the media glare has dimmed and the daily routine centers primarily around school, church and youth sports.And the birth this week of septuplets to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey of Carlisle, Iowa, went virtually unnoticed by husband Sam Frustaci.

"To be honest, I really haven't followed the story." Frustaci said during a brief interview in the family home. "I really don't have the interest."

But Frustaci had words of caution for the McCaugheys, warning them to avoid the attention and trouble his family experienced after his septuplets were born on May 21, 1985.

For the Frustacis, medical costs rose to more than $1 million and four of the seven infants died within weeks of being born because of health problems that affect premature babies.

"I hope and pray in all sincerity that their babies are healthy," he said. "And I hope that together they can raise them in a way as normal as possible in that situation. I hope on their behalf that they can live as normal a life as possible."

Frustaci said he hopes the media will give the McCaugheys the privacy he believes they need.

"I am hoping on their behalf they can try to avoid the media blitz," he said. "But it's impossible."

Like the McCaugheys, the Frustacis also used a fertility drug to increase their prospects.

Patti Frustaci gave birth to seven babies in the city of Orange, four boys and three girls delivered by Caesarean section 12 weeks prematurely.

Family and friends were overjoyed, but their happiness was cut short because the smallest, Christina Elizabeth, was stillborn.

The babies weighed from 15.5 ounces to 1 pound 11 ounces and had to fight to survive because of heart and lung problems associated with premature births. Not all lived.

David Anthony, nicknamed "Peanut," died three days after being born. James Martin died June 6, 1985. Three days later, Bonnie Marie died. All succumbed to hyaline membrane disease, which occurs when the lungs lack the substance to prevent them from collapsing.

The surviving children, Stephen Earl, Patricia Ann and Richard Charles, were released from Children's Hospital of Orange County one at a time beginning in mid-August 1985 as they recovered from problems that afflict premature babies.

The birth of the Iowa septuplets pushed the Frustaci family unwillingly back into the public eye. It was an uncomfortable reminder of a time when hope turned to heartbreak.

"Basically, I just don't want to talk at this point," Frustaci said.

He would not talk about his personal life, and he declined to speak about his wife, Patti, or on the details of his children's lives.

"I don't want people to know how I'm doing, how the kids are doing," he said. "I really don't want to go there. It's not pleasant."

At the time, Patti Frustaci was an English teacher at Rubidoux High School. Sam Frustaci sold steam equipment for a Buena Park company.

They sought fertility assistance because of their deep desire for family grounded in their Mormon beliefs. Before they conceived the septuplets, they already had one son, a healthy toddler named Joseph.

But what began as the promise of hope for a large family quickly became an ordeal. Extraordinary expenses of more than $1 million were only partially offset by offers of help, free food, goods and services and an exclusive interview contract with People magazine.

As mortality of the infants accelerated, many of the offers and endorsements faded away or never materialized.

On Oct. 7, 1985, the Frustacis filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Tyler Medical Clinics Inc. of West Los Angeles, the fertility clinic that treated Patti Frustaci, and her physician, Dr. Jaroslav Marik.

The suit accused the clinic and doctor of failing to properly monitor Frustaci during the pregnancy and blames them for health and developmental disabilities of the surviving children. The suit was settled in July 1990, with the children being awarded at least $2.7 million.

In 1991, six years after the birth of the septuplets, Patti Frustaci gave birth to healthy twins, also aided by a fertility drug.

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