‘Unusual event’

Thousands of eggs and embryos compromised by malfunctions at two different fertility clinics

Amber an Elliot Ash are suing an Ohio fertility clinic where they've stored embryos since 2014. (Twitter / ABC News)

At least 2,100 eggs and embryos were compromised after a major equipment failure at the University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland last weekend. Remarkably, on the same day, a similar malfunction at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco jeopardized thousands more eggs and embryos.

According to ABC News, both clinics experienced temperature fluctuations in longterm storage tanks containing liquid nitrogen. Dr. Carl Herbert, president and medical director at the Pacific Fertility Center, told the publication that the simultaneous incidents were “an unusual event” and that a tremendous amount of uncertainty still surrounds the entire situation, including the very viability of the eggs and embryos stored there.

Pacific Fertility Center has not said how many eggs and embryos were affected by the malfunction, but a spokesperson told The Washington Post that the compromised tank contained “several thousand” specimens. Around 700 patients of the University Hospitals Fertility Center were told that their eggs or embryos may have been similarly damaged. Some of the specimens had been stored at the facility for decades.

“We don’t know the reasons why yet,” Patti DePompei, president of UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, said in an interview with NBC News. “But we do know that the temperature that was measured at a portion of the tank was higher than our acceptable limits.”

A growing number of women are choosing to freeze their eggs for a variety of reasons, including the need or wish to delay pregnancies, or preserve eggs prior to chemotherapy. The procedure is costly, with prices climbing up to $14,000, according to NBC. The only way for patients of the affected clinics to determine the viability of their eggs and embryos is to thaw and implant them.

Herbet told The Washington Post that his clinic has contacted 400 patients who had all their eggs and embryos stored in the compromised tank, along with an additional 100 patients who had stored some tissue in the tank.

“Anger is a big part of the phone call,” he said. “Our goal is to provide all the patients we see with some kind of a family … We need to think: If this tissue doesn’t work, what are the next steps, and have you not feel defeated.”

For people like Amber and Elliott Ash, the mishap has been devastating. The Ohio couple filed a lawsuit on Sunday against University Hospitals Fertility Center. They had been storing embryos there since 2014. “It’s heartbreaking, just heartbreaking,” Amber Ash said. “The medical community calls it ’tissue.’ I like to think of it as my children.” Below, watch coverage from GMA on the story and hear more from the Ashes, including what they thought when they were told the unfortunate news.

Read the full story at ABC News.


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