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By the time Rena Barrow-Wells gave birth to her fourth baby in 2020, she was well-versed in caring for a child with cystic fibrosis. She was also experienced in fighting for a diagnosis of the disease, which runs in families and can severely damage the lungs and digestive system.

Nineteen years earlier, her first son, Jarrod, displayed classic symptoms of cystic fibrosis as a newborn — failure to gain weight; a stubborn, phlegmy cough; and frequent, oily stools. But instead of identifying the cause of her son’s illness, doctors at the New Orleans emergency room where she took Jarrod blamed his poor growth on his mother, who is Black and was a teenager at the time. Ms. Barrow-Wells said that doctors had accused her of starving her son, placed the two of them in a room with video surveillance and reported her to child protective services.

Doctors discharged Jarrod two weeks later without a diagnosis. It would take four years — and dozens of additional visits to doctors and emergency rooms — for Jarrod to be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis...