How common is an egg storage tank malfunction? Local doctor weighs in

By Patty Santos - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Two equipment failures at fertility clinics in California and Ohio have local fertility clinics double- and triple-checking their own equipment and failsafe measures to ensure it doesn’t happen to them.

Officials in the San Francisco and Cleveland facilities say thousands of embryos and gametes were damaged when the liquid nitrogen tank failed.

Dr. Summer James with Texas Fertility Center San Antonio said what happened in San Francisco and Cleveland is extremely rare.

“It’s a tragedy, extremely unfortunate for the patients who lost embryos or gametes,” she said. As well as for the physicians who are dealing with the situation.

James said Texas clinics are regulated by at least 13 different federal, state and local agencies. All clinics, she said, work hard to ensure the protection of patients and the tissue they store. Agencies have plan B’s in place, and even more recently -- as Hurricane Harvey was headed to Texas, they were formulating a safety plan.

At her clinic, she explained, embryologists visually check the tanks for liquid nitrogen daily. The tanks are not connected to a power source to operate. There are also sensors that monitor the amount of liquid nitrogen in the tanks; if it drops there are alarms that will go off notifying an embryologist to head to the clinic.

The alarms use power to operate, but that power is hooked up to generators incase power is lost.

“We take this very seriously. Not just Texas Fertility Clinic, but fertility specialists all around the country,” she said. “We understand the value of what we're storing in our laboratory and there are levels and levels of security that we have to make sure the embryos are safe.”

Authorities have not said what went wrong at the facilities in question, but they say the incidents are not related.

There are more than 500 centers across the country and where more than 150,000 IVF cycles take place, James said. All of the centers communicate with one another.

“We work with the brand makers of these tanks and monitoring systems to make sure we're doing the best to maintain the health and viability of the embryos,” she explained.

At this point, they are all waiting to find out what failed at those clinics to know what steps to take.

She urges patients with embryos and eggs stored at other clinics to contact them for peace to mind to ask what safeguards are in place.

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