A malfunction over the weekend at a Cleveland fertility clinic may have destroyed more than 2,000 stored eggs and embryos, affecting hundreds of families.
Late Saturday the temperature rose in a tank of liquid nitrogen, where frozen eggs and embryos were stored, damaging their viability.
"At this point, we do not know the viability of all of the stored eggs and embryos, although we do know some have been impacted," said Patti DePompei, the president of University Hospital Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital, in a Facebook video announcing the news.
Around 700 families have been notified that their stored eggs and embryos may be affected, with letters sent out to families this week, according to Cleveland.com. Some people had multiple samples stored, and some eggs and embryos have been stored since the 1980s.
The only way to check if an egg or embryo is viable is to thaw it, which is only done when it is to be used imminently. Dr. James Liu, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UH Cleveland Medical Center, told Cleveland.com that so far the affected eggs and embryos that were thawed because of already scheduled medical procedures this week were not viable.
DePompei said the temperature fluctuation had occurred "due to reasons unknown" and that the hospital had launched a major investigation to find out what happened.
"We are bringing in independent experts to ensure we understand all aspects of this occurrence and do everything possible to address the situation," the clinic said in a statement.
These stored eggs and embryos may in some cases have been the only option for a woman or couple to have a biological child. Eggs and embryos are stored for a multitude of reasons, including women freezing their eggs while young to aid fertility, people undergoing IVF or fertility treatments, and those who underwent egg removal or embryo fertilization prior to cancer treatment or other medical procedures.
“We are so very sorry this happened. And we want to do all that we can to support our patients and families through this difficult time," said the clinic.