Were Your Eggs and Embryos Destroyed in the Freezer Malfunctions?

Though there have been reports of frozen eggs and embryos being damaged in transit and storage accidents, the decimation of thousands of eggs and embryos at once is unheard of. Yet, this is exactly what happened when the liquid nitrogen tanks at the Pacific Fertility Clinic in San Francisco and at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Ohio failed, allowing the temperature in the storage tanks to rise to unsafe levels.

At least 950 University Hospitals patients and families were affected by the loss of over 4,000 eggs and embryos that were housed at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center. These patients have been left grieving the overwhelming loss of their potential sons and daughters.

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At least 400 Pacific Fertility patients were informed that several thousand eggs and embryos were stored in tank No.4 when it malfunctioned; most are still waiting to learn if any are still viable.

What is Cryopreservation?

Cryopreservation requires that harvested eggs and embryos be frozen and preserved in tanks of liquid nitrogen. The temperature of these tanks must remain above a certain level or the eggs and embryos may be damaged. In the California incident, the director of the laboratory noticed that liquid nitrogen levels in one of the storage tanks had dropped. If the level of liquid nitrogen in the tank drops, the temperature cannot be maintained.

The hopes and dreams of hundreds of patients were dashed the moment they received word that the tanks where their eggs and embryos were being preserved and stored failed, compromising thousands.

Lawsuits Are Mounting

Lawsuits are being filed on behalf of patients at both facilities. These lawsuits seek to hold the facilities accountable for their patients’ losses. As more patients are notified of the loss of their eggs and embryos, lawsuits will continue to mount.

Many of these patients want to know what safeguards were in place to prevent this type of loss. Patients at the Ohio facility question why no staff were present or remotely monitoring the sensors and alarms that were going off because of the temperature drop. Patients of the California clinic are questioning why the laboratory staff was not alerted as soon as liquid nitrogen levels began to drop.

Emotional, Physical, Mental and Financial Costs

Harvesting, freezing, preserving, and storing eggs and embryos are expensive, and some patients have spent tens of thousands of dollars for the chance to get pregnant and grow or build their families. But the cost of losing the children you have been hoping for and dreaming of is even bigger. For some, the eggs and embryos that were lost were their last chances for biological children. Some of these patients do not have the financial, emotional, and physical resources to go through the whole process again, and others no longer have healthy and useable sperm or eggs to harvest for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Depending on the facility, prices for harvesting, freezing and storing eggs can start at $10,000. Pacific Fertility charges $8,345 for the initial cycle of egg freezing, and charges nearly $7,000 for each cycle thereafter.

Many of these patients have been explaining just how difficult this situation is. They have told us about how sad and lonely it can be to have fertility issues, and of the emotional toll when even the smallest thing doesn’t go right. These patients say they are angry and filled with sorrow for the children they will never be able to have now.

Patients are alleging these facilities knew or should have known that their storage facilities could fail, and these patients want to know what protections were in place to ensure the safety of the eggs and embryos that were in their care.

What Do These Facilities Do?

Like many fertility clinics and IVF centers, both of these facilities offer services such as:

  • Freezing embryos for future use via cryopreservation
  • Freezing unfertilized eggs for later fertilization
  • Surrogacy

There are up to 500 fertility clinics in the United States and egg freezing has grown immensely in popularity, In fact, the New York Times reports that the number of women having their eggs frozen jumped from less than 500 women in 2009, to more than 6,000 women in 2015. All in all, about 20,000 women have had their eggs frozen, preserved, and stored in facilities across the country.

Some facilities have multiple backup and alert systems, such as at Pacific NW Fertility in Washington state. The director of that facility told the Times that it has multiple layers of alarms, including alarms that monitor the temperature of the tanks as well as their nitrogen levels and is integrated with the facility’s phone system.

What Happened?

Though University Hospitals issued notices to affected patients, many say they learned about the freezer malfunction after hearing about it on the news. Reports say that sometime after staff left the facility on Saturday, March 3, the liquid nitrogen freezer malfunctioned. When staff returned, they heard the alarm on the tank going off and began transferring the vials to another storage tank. Pacific Fertility reported that the drop in liquid nitrogen was discovered during routine monitoring.

Experts say that as patients are informed that their eggs and embryos are not viable, more lawsuits will be filed. These patients are seeking justice through the legal system to ensure that these types of failures never happen again.

Patients Hopes and Dreams Dashed in an Instant

For many of the patients, IVF is their last hope of having a biological child. One patient said she was diagnosed with reproductive cancer in her early 20s, so she had her eggs frozen so that when she was ready she could have a family. She said she thought the 10 eggs and 4 embryos she had preserved and stored in the Ohio facility would always be there for her. She said the only thing she has ever wanted to be was a mom.

Some of these patients say that losing an embryo that took so much work to create is nearly incomprehensible. They say that it is extremely difficult to believe that all their hopes and dreams could be dashed an in instant.

What Are They Doing About It?

While both facilities have responded to the failures, neither have explained how the failures happened in the first place. University Hospitals said they were doing everything they could to address the problem and issued an apology. Officials are conducting an investigation into the freezer failure, to determine why the temperature dropped. Pacific Fertility reported the failure to their overseeing body and brought in an investigatory team to analyze all aspects of their cryopreservation techniques.

Both facilities are analyzing the affected eggs and embryos, but one of the problems is that to determine if an egg or embryo is still viable, it has to be thawed. Once thawed, refreezing is not an option. Experts say that eggs are a bit challenging to thaw because of the amount of fluid they have in them and because of the spindle, a structure that affects chromosome organization. To remain viable, the eggs have to be frozen and thawed in a particular way to prevent damage.

Many patients are still waiting to hear if their eggs and embryos are still viable after the malfunctions, but all of the patients we have spoken with have reported their eggs and embryos were damaged. Some believe that all the eggs and embryos at University Hospitals may have been damaged, while Pacific Facility reports that some of the embryos they examined were believed to still be viable.

We Can Help

Patients who lost their eggs and embryos in the liquid nitrogen tank failure at University Hospitals and the hundreds more who lost their potential sons and daughters at Pacific Fertility want these facilities held accountable for their alleged negligence. These patients accuse these facilities of charging money to preserve and safely store their eggs and embryos, but then failed to monitor and maintain their storage systems. These failures led to the loss of thousands of potential children. These patients are seeking justice through a frozen embryo/egg accident lawsuit. With the help of knowledgeable attorneys, these patients are holding the facilities accountable for the loss of their potential future children and they are fighting to ensure these types of failures and malfunctions never happen again.

For decades, we have successfully fought for the rights of patients harmed by the negligence of someone else and we stand ready to fight for you now. If you lost eggs or embryos in the Pacific Fertility Clinic failure or the University Hospitals Fertility Center freezer malfunction, contact us today to learn more about patient rights and whether you are entitled to seek justice for your losses. Contact us now.

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