On Monday, University Hospitals Cleveland released the news that their Ohio-based fertility clinic lost 4,000 eggs and embryos after a storage failure that they say took place in early March. While pointing to possible human error, the clinic said that it initially estimated 2,000 eggs and embryos had been destroyed, but further investigation revealed that the number of nonviable eggs and embryos identified was twice that.
Thomas Zenty, who is the CEO of University Hospitals, wrote that the management realized how emotionally distressing and shocking this news must be to the men and women who trusted the fertility facility with their eggs and embryos. In its statement, the clinic estimated that about 950 of its patients had been affected by the malfunction. The center listed several findings from its ongoing investigation into the storage failure and noted that,
These failures should not have happened, we take responsibility for them — and we are so sorry that our failures caused such a devastating loss for you.
The first problem that the fertility clinic faced, according to its statement, was related to its remote alarm system. The alarm, which was meant for the storage tank, had a switch mechanism that could be enabled to let staff members know if the temperature in the storage needed to be moderated. Yet between March 3-4, the clinic said the alarm had been disabled.
"We don't know when the remote alarm was turned off but it remained off through that weekend, so an alert wasn't sent to our employee as the tank temperature began to rise on Saturday night, when the lab isn't staffed." The clinic added, "We don't know who turned off the remote alarm nor do we know how long it was off, but it appears to have been off for a period of time." On Tuesday, NBC News highlighted the manufacturer of the storage tank as Michigan-based Custom BioGenic.
Another problem with the storage tank, the fertility clinic noted in its letter, was that it needed "preventative maintenance" for some time. In order to keep the specimens frozen in the storage, it needed liquid nitrogen either poured by a staff member from the top of the tank or automatically filled.
The clinic said that it had been experiencing technical difficulty "for several weeks" when it came to the tank's liquid nitrogen automatic fill mechanism. University Hospitals' letter noted that the clinic was aware of this issue and had contacted the manufacturer of the tank in order to fix the fill issue. The manufacturer told the clinic to "thaw" its storage and transfer the specimens to an extra tank provided by the company in the meantime. The clinic said that it had initiated the transferring process when the malfunction occurred.
On Tuesday, the head of the University Hospitals' OB/GYN department, James Liu, spoke with ABC News of the "catastrophic" malfunction and spoke of the measures the fertility clinic was taking to address the needs of their affected clients. According to its statement, the clinic will "refund storage fees paid to date and we will waive storage fees in the future for seven years." It also added, "We are not asking that you sign a release of any claims to obtain these services."
But while the University Hospitals has issued apologies to families, some couples remain unhappy. One couple that wanted another child, Amber and Elliott Ash, told CBS News on Wednesday that they are suing University Hospitals. "I don't understand how somebody can be so truly reckless," Amber said. "Everybody just wants University Hospitals to be accountable and to be transparent and nobody wants to see failures like this occur elsewhere."