Hundreds of families received troubling news this week after an unprecedented "malfunction" at a Cleveland egg-freezing facility. Although the staff at University Hospitals Fertility Center hasn't yet figured out exactly how it happened, what's known is that the temperature in one section of a long-term storage tank filled with liquid nitrogen rose to unacceptable levels, meaning it's now unclear whether the 2,100 or so eggs and embryos kept there (some since the '80s, per the Washington Post) are still viable, says Patricia DePompei, president of two UH hospitals. It's only clear if an egg or embryo is damaged after it's been thawed and implanted. "Obviously the situation that occurred here is devastating for the families involved, and it's devastating for ... our staff," DePompei tells NBC News. About 700 patients were affected, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
DePompei notes the temperature spike took place sometime between Saturday afternoon, when staff left for the day, and early Sunday. The site where the egg- and embryo-holding tanks are stored features an alarm system, and the alarm was said to be going off when staff arrived Sunday morning. University Hospitals says it won't destroy the eggs and embryos, though whether patients will get their money back isn't yet clear. Per a University Hospitals statement cited by News 5 Cleveland, the facility has "initiated contact with all of our patients," and a call center has been set up so patients can set up meetings with doctors. An American Society for Reproductive Medicine rep says nothing like this has ever happened at a US fertility clinic. (Read more freezing eggs stories.)