4,000 frozen eggs and embryos that were stored at University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland have been compromised, damaged or destroyed. A freezer malfunction at the facility caused temperatures in the storage tank to rise. The liquid nitrogen storage tank at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center malfunctioned, causing temperature fluctuations. While the extent of this tragedy is still unclear, UH Fertility Clinic originally informed about 700 patients that their frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged. However, that number has risen to over 900 families.
UH Fertility Clinic claims that it does not know how or why the freezer malfunctioned, and it is still unclear whether the problem was caused by human error or mechanical failure. However, they have admitted that the alarm system was turned off when the temparature rose.
The damage to thousands of eggs and embryos is both a devastating financial and emotional catastrophe. The process of removing, freezing, and storing eggs and embryos is a trying ordeal and can cost more than $10,000 per procedure. Additionally, these families are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars each year to store their frozen eggs and embryos. Even more devastating, for some families, this was their only chance of having children.
The storage facility was not staffed the night of the malfunction, and the embryologists did not arrive until the next morning. According to James Liu, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UH Cleveland Medical Center, initially reported “the temperature had increased in the top tank. Our fear is a significant number of embryos and eggs have been compromised.” Now, in both a letter sent to patients and in a follow up interview with Dr. Liu, “an alarm system meant to alert employees to any temperature fluctuations within the storage tanks was switched off. It is unclear when the remote alarm was turned off, but an alert to an employee as the temperature inside the tank began to rise was not sent or received.” The letter stated, “It is unlikely any of the eggs and embryos are viable.”
Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane attorney Adam Wolf said: “Keep in mind that these families have entrusted their most valuable property in the entire world – their frozen embryos – to UH Fertility Clinic. We want to make sure that this devastating tragedy never happens again.”
Now, the hospital has taken full responsibility for the malfunction and has apologized to patients. When families and the media initially learned of the incident and reached out for comment, UH refused to confirm what had happened for days, and refused to respond to basic questions about what happened inside the Beachwood facility for weeks.
Dr. Liu’s recent interview was the first time an employee of UH has spoken on camera since the malfunction. The interview was ended by a UH spokesperson when Dr. Liu was asked who was to blame, but not before saying, “I think UH is responsible for this.”