Between March 3 and March 4, a large liquid nitrogen freezer at the University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood, Ohio damaged the more than 4,000 eggs and embryos that were stored inside of it.
According to NBC News, something caused the freezer to malfunction which then caused the temperature to rise. By the time someone realized, it was too late. Eggs and embryos that had been stored at the facility for decades were lost.Eric Hanson/Wikimedia/CC
The hospital believes “human error” is to blame. The incident occurred when the remote alarm system on the freezer, which would have alerted an employee to the temperature swing, was shut off. The hospital says it does not know who turned the alarm off.
The incident affected nearly 1,000 patients. None of the 4,000 embryos and eggs being stored are still viable. Christina and Marc Ellis, a couple affected by the situation, told NBC News that their hopes of giving their two-year-old daughter a sibling are now gone:
“I don’t know if I can go through the whole process again. And what’s the outcome gonna be?”
Mom of two Niki Schaefer stored her four frozen embryos at a different facility and they were not affected. However, the incident finally pushed her to do something she has been hesitant to do for years.
After she and her husband welcomed a son and a daughter into the world, Schaefer wasn’t sure what she should do with her four remaining embryos. Her initial thought was to donate them, but she worried about the consequences.
She told Cleveland.com that she felt weird about the idea of her biological children being raised by another family and the thought of potentially running into them one day at the grocery store made her “uncomfrotable”:
“The thought of it made me uncomfortable. I hesitated to do it.”
However, after hearing about the patients who lost their last hope of becoming parents, Schaefer felt compelled to move forward with the donation process.
“I have an extra amount of empathy for what everyone is going through. Those embryos represent people’s hopes of having children.”
Schaefer took to Facebook to announce her decision to donate:
I am the mom of a girl that was a frozen embryo, transferred from this petri dish. I have 4 more frozen embryos that I’ve never been quite sure what to do with. I thought I would eventually donate them to research because I couldn’t mentally handle the thought of Noah and Lane’s formerly frozen siblings being on this earth and not knowing them.
The unfortunate events that compromised the frozen embryos at the UH Fertility Center changed my mind. My 4 frozen embryos are at a different facility where my doctor, friend and hero, Jimmy Goldfarb, used to work. I contacted Dr. Goldfarb (who now heads the UH Fertility Center) yesterday to tell him I would be donating them to families affected by this tragedy.
Schaefer encouraged other women in a similar position to follow her lead:
If you are in my shoes, please consider doing the same. I will happily put you in contact with Dr. Goldfarb. I often say there is a sisterhood of women touched by infertility. This is an opportunity to be real sisters and bring light to the darkness that these families, and those who work at the UH Fertility Center, are experiencing.
Over a hundred people praised the mom for her selfless actions. Some are even thinking about donating as a result.
One woman commented on Schaefer’s post:
I do not know you but I just saw your story on Fox 8 news. I sat and cried. We have 3 frozen embryos. Dr. Goldfarb was our doctor also. He was the nicest most sincere doctor I’ve ever met. I have been wrestling with the decision on what to do with them, and just like you I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that my biological babies would be out there somewhere. I feel too, that I’d always be looking for them & wondering where they are and if they survived the thawing process. In those years we were trying to get pregnant my mind was consumed with the wondering and heartbreak of if we would even have kids and then wondering if I could get pregnant again. I finally have peace and I’m scared I would be going right back to the constant wondering & turmoil in my own mind. As I’m sure you know, it’s exhausting. I have 2 healthy boys and feel my family is complete. I will be honest, the thought crossed my mind to donate them and then I put it aside. After seeing your story I am rethinking all of this. I don’t know what I’ll decide, but I want you to know what you’re doing is truly selfless. You are a ray of light in a really dark situation.
Schaefer told Cleveland.com that she is just hopeful that her embryos will “work for someone” and that they will give them the “chance” they deserve.
How University Hospitals plans to remedy this situation is unclear at this time.