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Frozen Eggs, Embryos Possibly Damaged at San Francisco Fertility Clinic

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF & AP) -- A San Francisco fertility clinic says thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged after a liquid nitrogen failure in a storage tank.

Dr. Carl Herbert, president of Pacific Fertility Clinic, told the Washington Post on Sunday that officials have informed some 400 patients of the failure that occurred March 4.

Herbert says the clinic's staff thawed a few eggs and found they remain viable. He says they have not checked any of the embryos.

On Sunday, the clinic released the following statement to KPIX 5.

"A single piece of equipment in our cryo-storage laboratory lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time. We do know that there is viable tissue from that tank. The rest of the tanks were not affected. The equipment was immediately retired, the vast majority of the eggs and embryos in the lab were unaffected, and the facility is operating securely."

"As soon as the issue was discovered, our most senior embryologists took immediate action to transfer those tissues from the affected equipment to a new piece of equipment. We have brought in independent experts and are conducting a full investigation."

"We are truly sorry this happened and for the anxiety that this will surely cause."

It's the second such failure at a U.S. clinic in a matter of days. Last week, an Ohio hospital said more than 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged due to a refrigerator malfunction.

Herbert told the Post that he and colleagues began making phone calls on Saturday night to some 400 patients who had all their eggs or embryos stored in the clinic's storage tank #4.

Then early Sunday, the Post reported, the clinic also sent out emails explaining what had happened to two other groups. Roughly 100 patients who had tissue in both the problematic tank and another tank.

The second, larger group receiving emails, were patients who whose tissue was unaffected.

"There is just not an ability to do this unemotionally," Hebert told the Post. "Anger is a big part of the phone call...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 told the Post the problem was discovered by the clinic's laboratory director, who noticed during a routine check of the steel storage tanks that the level of liquid nitrogen in one tank was too low.

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