By ALLIE SIMON
Called a “catastrophic” failure, a storage tank at an Ohio fertility clinic malfunctioned and resulted in the loss of more than 4,000 eggs and embryos this month. 950 patients were affected by the failure and have since had their childbearing plans altered.
According to a newsletter provided by the University Hospitals fertility clinic, the remote alarm system designed to alert employees of rising temperatures was turned off the weekend that the tank temperature rose.
The newsletter says that the clinic, “does not know who turned off the remote alarm nor how long it was off, but it appears to have been off for a long period of time.”
“We are heartbroken to tell you that it’s unlikely that any of the eggs are viable,” the newsletter said.
According to the letter, the clinic had recently come across issues with the auto-refill function of the tank, which fills the liquid nitrogen that preserves the eggs and embryos. Employees had been manually refilling the liquid nitrogen. The clinic claims that they do not know if the new fill process was affecting the temperature of the tank.
In an interview on March 21, cancer patient Elliot Ash said that he froze his sperm in 2003 before he underwent chemotherapy. After getting married a few years later, Ash and his wife were able to use in-vitro fertilization to have a child in 2015. According to Ash’s wife, the couple’s “goal was to always give [their] son a biological sibling … it has been a rough few weeks.” The couple is “now unsure about their family plans,” according to The New York Times. The Ashs are filing a class action lawsuit against the clinic.
The newsletter issued by the clinic was sympathetic and deeply apologetic for the tank failure, but patients remain outraged and heartbroken. Jeremy and Kate Plants, a couple who lost their embryos, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that they “had accepted that [their] embryos were lost, but [their] hearts still break for those who were holding on to hope that their embryos were still alive.”
Regarding the clinic, the Plants wrote, “why was nothing done before this disaster happened?”
The logistics of what actually happened are still being investigated.