University Hospitals: Fertility clinic storage tank failure likely the result of human error

Cleveland-based University Hospitals is blaming human error for a storage tank malfunction at its fertility clinic in March that resulted in the loss of more than 4,000 frozen eggs and embryos, according to a draft letter to affected patients obtained by NBC News.

The temperature of a liquid nitrogen freezer at the UH Fertility Center, which is housed in the Beachwood, Ohio-based University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, unexpectedly rose sometime between the afternoon of March 3 and the morning of March 4, damaging "around 2,000" eggs, according to early reports. Now, more than three weeks after the tank failure, UH officials said 4,000 frozen eggs and embryos were lost — two times the number initially reported.

While the storage tank had a remote alarm system, which should have alerted an employee to temperature swings, the system was shut off, according to a draft letter obtained by NBC News. The fertility center does not know who turned it off or the reasons for doing so, but knows it was powered off during the weekend of March 3.

Hospital officials said it is unlikely any of the stored eggs and embryos affected in the incident are still viable, a crushing blow to the nearly 1,000 affected patients.

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