Austin fertility labs taking proactive measures after Ohio clinic failure


After the failure of a storage tank at an Ohio fertility clinic this month, some fertility labs in Austin are adjusting their protocols.

The University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, which manages the fertility lab, said about 4,000 embryos and eggs are lost, affecting roughly 950 patients. Alarms on the storage tank failed to alert staff to a rise in temperature, which destroyed the embryos.

The clinic also said lab workers were manually filling the tank with liquid nitrogen to keep the material inside cold. The automatic refill function on the tank was not working properly, the hospital said in a letter to patients. 

An investigation into the failure is underway and the hospital is facing a class-action lawsuit. The debacle has caused some fertility clinics in Austin to review their procedures. 

“There is so much trust that goes into this process,” said Lindsey McCasland, a patient at Texas Fertility Center in Austin. “I just felt physically ill for those couples. I could not imagine being in their shoes.”

McCasland and her husband, Bryan, have tried to conceive for three years. The couple was referred to the Texas Fertility Center and currently has several embryos in storage.

They are closely watching what happens with the Ohio lab failure, McCasland said.  

“You trust the doctors and the people working in the lab,” she said. “You can’t help but to put yourself in their shoes.”

The Austin-based lab said it immediately reached out to patients with a letter explaining how the stainless steel storage tanks work, emphasizing that workers are now taking extra logs on the alarms linked to tanks that contain frozen eggs, sperm and embryos.

“We decided to do alarm checks more frequently than what we were doing them,” said Dr. Kaylen Silverberg, Texas Fertility Center’s medical director. “So, instead of doing them weekly, we do them daily.”

Dr. Silverberg said his staff saw a spike in phone calls from patients, asking about their frozen eggs, sperm and embryos.

At the core of the Ohio failure is the cryotank that stores reproductive material. Lab technicians said the one in question malfunctioned and didn’t automatically re-fill with liquid nitrogen, causing the temperature inside to warm up over the weekend of March 3.

Dr. Silverberg said his clinic does not use the same stainless steel cryo-tanks as the Cleveland lab.

“We don’t use those tanks. We don’t use that manufacturer,” he said. 

His team manually fills storage tanks with liquid nitrogen frequently. He said a leak or a drop in temperature would be noticed immediately.

“About an inch of liquid nitrogen evaporates every day,” he said. “So, if there was ever a leak in this tank, we would have days of excess liquid nitrogen that would remain to keep these tissues cold.”

McCasland said the extra safeguards are protecting her future family.

“They are the single most valuable asset that we have on earth,” she said. “They’re potential kids…”

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