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Young Cancer Patients Get Awful Letter: 'I Started Crying'

Stem cells for dozens accidentally destroyed at LA medical center after freezer malfunction
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2019 9:10 AM CDT
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Dozens of families are devastated after a freezer malfunction at CHLA.   (Getty Images/microgen)

(Newser) – "Insufficient" safeguards at a California medical center have led to a devastating loss for dozens of young cancer patients. KABC reports that stem cells for 56 patients were accidentally destroyed after a freezer they were stored in at Children's Hospital Los Angeles stopped working properly. A statement from CHLA blames a malfunction in the unit's temperature sensors. "Safeguards were in place at the time but were insufficient," the statement reads, adding "no child's health is in jeopardy due to this incident." CNN explains stem cells are a form of regenerative therapy in which a patient's own cells are put back into their bodies to "replenish" diseased or injured cells. The stem cells in this case were harvested via what KABC deems a "grueling" process before the children started chemo and radiation, then placed into long-term storage in case the kids' cancer came back.

Dr. James Stein, CHLA's chief medical officer, says stem cells can be reharvested from affected patients if need be, though some parents worry the procedure is so arduous that it could be difficult, if not impossible. The hospital also apologizes in its statement for sending letters notifying families of what had happened directly to the young patients, not their parents. "I got almost to the very bottom and I just started crying," one 13-year-old patient tells KABC, with his mom adding she wouldn't have told her son what was in the letter if she'd seen it first. CHLA says it has since gotten a new freezer, given all power supply sources a once-over, trained a team to work and maintain the new unit, and "upgraded our sensor monitoring and alert system." (Read more stem cells stories.)

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