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Ohio fertility clinic failure destroyed 4,000 embryos, far more than first thought

Ohio fertility clinic failure
Failure at Ohio fertility clinic far worse than first thought 01:54

NEW YORK -- A fertility clinic outside Cleveland admitted Tuesday the failure of its freezer system was far worse than first thought, and human error may be partly to blame.

Nearly 1,000 patients have now learned that 4,000 eggs and embryos were destroyed on March 3. In a new letter to patients, University Hospitals apologized again, saying "the remote alarm system on the tank, designated to alert a UH employee to changes like temperature swings, was off."

Hospital officials say they doesn't know who turned the remote alarm off or how long it was disabled. They also said they were aware the tank in question needed preventative maintenance. Some of the eggs and embryos had been stored there since the 1980s. The hospital's investigation is ongoing.

"Right now we do not know whether it's mechanical or human or [a] combination," said James Liu, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals.

He says he doesn't think anyone intentionally disengaged the alarm.

"Because it is a computer, we think it's unlikely that there was any kind of external force that was working to hack the computer or anything like that. We think it's unlikely," Liu said.

Christina Ellis and her husband Marc had two embryos remaining at University Hospitals after Christina gave birth to their daughter. They were hoping to use them to give her a sibling. Now they're suing, claiming negligence and breach of contract.

"There's nothing financially that I can gain. You can't put a price tag on on embryos or an egg," said Christina Ellis. "I'm hoping that there's some changes that this never happens again for any future families and no one has to go through what we are going through."

The hospital says it's offering families free IVF cycles and providing counseling at no charge. So far, there are no known connections between the failure at this clinic and the one that happened the same day at a fertility clinic in San Francisco.

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