fertility clinic experienced a liquid nitrogen failureA San Francisco, CA fertility clinic is reporting a liquid nitrogen malfunction in one of the storage units that housed thousands of fertilized eggs and embryos. This incident follows another similar failing reported by a unrelated clinic in Cleveland, OH over the same weekend.

Officials at San Francisco’s Pacific Fertility said the failure was noticed by their laboratory director during a “routine check.” On March 4, it was discovered that level of liquid nitrogen in a steel storage tanks had fallen too low. Reduced levels of the liquid nitrogen cause elevated temperatures in the tanks thus risking damage to the contents of the vials. Each vial can contain as many as three eggs; embryos — or fertilized eggs — are stored individually.

It took several days, once the contents were moved safely to a replacement storage tank, to sort through patient records and determine where patient materials were being stored. The staff began making calls to patients who were directly affected by the malfunction and sending emails to patients whose tissue were either split between the failed tank and others or patients who were not affected by the failure at all.

Clinic president, Dr. Carl Herbert said his discussions with patients were emotional:

“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.”

Herbert said the extent of the damage is not yet clear. When clinic staff thawed a few eggs affected by the malfunction, they found that the tissue remained viable. Staff have not checked any of the embryos, he said.

“This was a terrible incident,” Herbert said, “but I was reassured that . . . [staff] did everything anybody could ever want to do.”

Officials at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center’s fertility clinic notified “about 700 patients that their frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged when their liquid nitrogen levels were discovered to have dropped. Some of the Cleveland, OH materials are reported to have been in storage “since the 1980s.”

Here’s an excellent video summary of what happened in the Cleveland fertility clinic, to help you understand:

The full story on the Pacific Fertility Center malfunction can be found here.

Photo Credit: TNS Sofres