Nearly 1,000 patients of the University Hospitals Fertility Center are being sent letters apologizing once more and acknowledging some of the reasons a storage tank failed. The hospital is now blaming human error for the loss of those frozen eggs and embryos, some of which had been stored for decades.
Betty Jacobs first heard about the freezer problem on Thursday, March 8, when she scrolled through her Facebook news feed. That day, a local Ohio paper had published an articleabout temperature changes at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, where Jacobs underwent IVF and had her twins in 2016. Because of these temperature changes — which had occurred the previous Saturday — more than 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos were potentially damaged and unviable.
Recently, two medical clinics were in the news due to storage tank failures which led to potential losses of hundreds of their patients’ frozen eggs and embryos. As a result, California Cryobank (Cryobank), the domestic leader in the frozen sperm/egg donor industry and one of the nation’s largest private stem cell and reproductive tissue storage facilities, has recently received many more inquiries than usual about what safeguards we have in place to protect our own clients’ valuable specimens.
“We safeguard tens of thousands of specimens for private storage and donor clients who count on us to protect their family’s futures,” says Cryobank’s Chief Operating Officer, Pamela Richardson. “Our biorepository operation in Los Angeles is designed to provide the highest level of security through a robust storage system with multiple layers of redundancies built into it.”
The failure of systems used to store frozen eggs and embryos at two fertility clinics has rattled people who count on such clinics to help them realize their hopes of having children. But the breakdowns at clinics in Cleveland and San Francisco, each apparently involving the temperature or level of liquid nitrogen in one storage tank, have damaged at least some eggs and embryos belonging to potentially hundreds of people.
At a time when egg freezing is increasing swiftly — some Silicon Valley companies now tout it as a perk for their employees — the incidents raise questions about what to look for and ask if you are considering taking that step. Here is a basic guide:
ON MARCH 4, an embryologist at Pacific Fertility Center was doing a routine walk-through of the clinic’s collection of waist-high steel tanks, each one filled with thousands of liquid nitrogen-bathed vials of frozen sperm, eggs, and embryos. The San Francisco-based clinic offers cryogenic cold storage and in vitro fertilization services for patients throughout the Bay Area, many of whom work for tech companies with hefty fertility benefits packages—Apple, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn. PFC charges its patients $600 a year for storage alone, which covers the personnel required to maintain the tanks, according to its website.Every day someone has to do a physical inspection of the equipment, and staff are on-call 24/7. But that Sunday, the embryologist discovered that in one tank, Tank No. 4., the liquid nitrogen levels had slipped to dangerously low levels.