Freezer malfunctions out of state raise concern at local fertility clinics

Posted at 6:29 PM, Mar 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-16 16:03:22-04

The failure of two freezers storing eggs and embryos at fertility clinics in different parts of the country has stunned health experts and raised concerns locally among couples trying to conceive.  

“I can’t even imagine the nightmare,” said Dr. Nicholas Shamma, founder of IVF Michigan Fertility Centers.

Like other fertility doctors, Shamma was in disbelief to learn that freezers at clinics in Ohio and California failed on the same day earlier this month, damaging thousands of eggs and embryo and devastating couples hoping for a son or daughter.  

Officials with Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, California and and University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio are still investigating what went wrong.

“It’s beyond devastating. It’s like a spiritual, emotional, physical loss,” said Marlo Emch, a patient at one of the affected clinics.

IVF Michigan is the largest fertility clinic in the state. Dr. Shamma says what happened is particularly surprising because facilities like his have built-in systems to prevent disasters like this.

At IVF Michigan, eggs and embryos are stored at 321 degrees below zero. Even a small fluctuation in temperature will get staff’s attention.   

“We have backup systems, we have generators, we have battery backups to the system in case even the generators are not working,” Shamma said, who has never seen a freezer failure at his clinics.

Both out-of-state facilities had back-ups too, and officials there are still trying to find out whether mechanical error, human error or both are to blame.   

“Sometimes, a loss is a permanent loss,” Shamma said. “And for people that have had embryos frozen because they have cancer or they’re doing fertility preservation, they can’t go back in time. And that’s the problem.”