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Cleveland Fertility Clinic Loses More Than 4,000 Eggs and Embryos

Photograph by Twenty20

Imagine waking up to discover that the eggs and embryos you spent thousands of dollars on were no longer viable. That's what happened to more than 950 families in Ohio this week, as they learned after receiving a letter from their fertility clinic.

According to CNN, more than 4,000 eggs and embryos were lost due to a freezer malfunction at The University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland.

The malfunction, which happened earlier this month, occurred when temperatures unexpectedly fluctuated in the liquid nitrogen storage tank where the eggs and embryos were stored, University Hospitals said.

Despite the hospital's initial letter to families, stating that none of the eggs and embryos impacted by the partial thaw would be destroyed, this week’s announcement told a different story.

In a letter to families dated March 26, University Hospitals said that the technical manner in which the eggs and embryos were stored in the freezers complicated their initial determination of how many patients and specimens were affected.

And then, in one short sentence, University Hospitals put an end to any hope that these families may have had that their eggs and embryos survived: "We are heartbroken to tell you that it's unlikely any are viable."

In one short sentence, University Hospitals put an end to any hope that these families may have had that their eggs and embryos survived.

But hospital officials knew that sending a generic letter—blaming a vague “technical glitch” on something so important—wasn’t going to be enough, so they went on to describe what really happened. You might want to sit down for this.

Apparently, the remote alarm system on the tank—designed to alert employees to changes such as temperature swings—had somehow been turned off.

"We don't know when the remote alarm was turned off, but it remained off through that weekend, so an alert wasn't sent to our employee as the tank temperature began to rise on Saturday night, when the lab isn't staffed," the letter said.

"An alarm should have been sent and received," it continued. "We don't know who turned off the remote alarm nor do we know how long it was off, but it appears to have been off for a period of time. We are still seeking those answers."

Though it is of little comfort to families who have suffered such a great loss, University Hospitals is taking full responsibility for the failure.

“We are so sorry that our failures caused such a devastating loss for you," they wrote.

To regain trust, the hospital has offered to refund paid storage fees and waive storage fees for the next seven years.

"We know that words are not enough," the letter concluded. "Our actions must now speak for us. We hope our actions will restore your trust in us."

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