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Recently, at a Cleveland, Ohio fertility center, a nitrogen storage tank malfunctioned, damaging more than 4,000 human eggs and embryos. Employees at University Hospitals Fertility Clinic are still trying to assess exactly what went wrong and how to avoid similar problems in the future.
Cryopreservation is the storage of fertilized embryos at sub-zero temperatures. Eggs are also frozen before they are fertilized. Both are placed in long-term storage until a patient is read to use them. At that time, they are removed from storage, and thawed for patient use. Embryos can be stored indefinitely; even 20-year-old embryos have produced healthy babies. Nitrogen tanks used to store eggs and embryos are outfitted with high-tech sensors and monitors that alert technicians during irregular temperature changes. Employees can monitor these systems on-site and remotely.
University Hospitals report that an equipment malfunction caused a dangerous rise in the tank’s temperature, jeopardizing thousands of specimens. Every vial in the tank contains two to three eggs or embryos from every patient; some patients have multiple vials in storage. Vials date back years and even decades.
An investigation revealed that the alarms, which should have alerted employees to the temperature shift, were not turned on at the time. It is unclear how long the alarms were shut off. In the weeks leading up to the incident, technicians had been having trouble with the storage tank in question and were in contact with the manufacturer to transfer the stored eggs and embryos to another unit. Tragically, none of the vials had been transferred before the incident occurred.
After discovering the failure, the clinic sent letters to every patient possibly impacted by the incident. A call center was created to answer patient questions and schedule appointments to discuss next steps. The clinic also reported the failure to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, the federal agency that monitors fertility clinics across the country.
Initially, doctors at the fertility clinic were unsure how many families were affected and how many of the eggs were damaged. First estimated at 700 families, sadly, the number grew to more than 950 families. Those families are now dealing with the devastating news that their plans for their future are now forever changed. Doctors at the clinic report it is likely that none of the affected eggs or embryos are viable.
Patients trust their healthcare providers to make the best decisions for their health and wellness. When a medical practitioner makes a serious mistake or fails to provide the expected standard of care, the impact can be devastating. If you or a family member has been harmed by a medical mistake, contact the South Jersey medical malpractice lawyers at Folkman Law Offices, P.C. for a free case review. Call 856-354-9444 or contact us online to start the process today. With locations in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Philadelphia and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and the surrounding area.