'When that alarm was turned off, they lost their voice,' victim of freezer malfunction says

Ethan was born through IVF, and they documented their journey. (Source: WOIO)
Ethan was born through IVF, and they documented their journey. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It's been a roller coaster of emotions for hundreds of families who lost so much after a massive freezer malfunction at University Hospitals fertility clinic.

We learned on Tuesday from UH officials that 4,000 eggs and embryos were likely destroyed, which is double the number initially reported by the hospital.

UH says someone turned off an alarm on the storage tank.

Cleveland 19 spoke to a family after they learned human error was one of the factors behind this crisis.

They're in disbelief right now, that something so valuable to them was left without a safety net.

It's been a long journey to become parents for Amber and Elliott Ash of Bay Village.

Their son Ethan is two-and-a-half-years-old, born after two rounds of IVF.

They hoped to give him a sibling soon.

"Just to have these embryos that for us we considered to be our children, taken away, as a parent to them and a mother to them, I assumed they were in the safest place. And that clearly did not hold true," Amber Ash said.

A letter from UH brought them more answers, but it left them with a lot of questions and a lot of pain.

"We want to move on and get past this, but we keep getting reminded that we did lose our only chances there," Elliott Ash said.

UH says someone turned off the alarm on the tank where the embryos and eggs were kept.

"When that alarm was turned off, they lost their voice. That was their voice," Amber said.

Before that, employees manually poured liquid nitrogen into the tank, which was already in need of preventative maintenance.

UH says the auto fill was not working and they had manually been filling the tank for several weeks.

Officials say the levels were being monitored, but they're investigating whether that led to a rise in temperature.

The Ashes say fertility clinics need to be regulated better.

"We hope for policy change. We want to make sure this doesn't happen anywhere in the industry ever again. There's no reason for an alarm to be shut off, and no one notified about it," Elliott said.

The Ashes want better safeguards across the fertility industry.

That's why they're speaking up, and that's why they filed a class action lawsuit.

"These were lives. These were cells that showed great potential and now the potential of these embryos will never be known," Amber said.

University Hospitals is offering affected patients individualized medical services after this incident.

It's also refunding them storage fees that were already paid, and waiving those fees for another seven years.

The hospital says its fertility center continues to operate as they continue to investigate.

Officials say their fertility team is using new tanks and new alarms and it is reviewing its monitoring policies.

Cleveland 19 did some digging and just found out the embryo tank manufacturer is Custom BioGenics System.

We're still waiting to find out the exact make and model of the tank.

We've contacted the company for more information.

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