Hundreds of families are grappling with the devastating news that a freezer malfunction at an Ohio fertility clinic may have left eggs and embryos stored in one of two large freezers no longer viable for use.
On Thursday, officials with University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland announced that an “unexpected temperature fluctuation” within the storage bank impacted several embryos. More than 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos were compromised, according to CNN.
“We have initiated an investigation to identify the cause of this event,” the clinic said in a statement. “We are bringing in independent experts to ensure we understand all aspects of this occurrence and do everything possible to address the situation.
“Right now, our patients come first. We are incredibly sorry this happened. We are committed to getting answers and working with patients individually to address their concerns.”
For Christina Ellis, who had two embryos saved at the clinic, the incident means she may never be able to have another child. She has a 2-year-old daughter, Laceygale, from in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“It’s just a horrible feeling. In my heart, I’m like, ‘Those were my children. Those were babies-to-be.’ And I had such a hard time with the procedure in the first place because I was 36,” the grieving mom of one tells PEOPLE. “We thought,’ [my daughter’s] going to have her siblings, and that was our whole goal and now that’s just been crushed.”
She adds: “I just never thought this would happen. In a million years, I never thought that this would happen.”
Ellis, 39, suffered an ectopic pregnancy, which “destroyed” her fallopian tubes and left her unable to conceive. So, in 2014, she created four embryos and used one to have Laceygale. Another was unsuccessful and the final two have remained at the clinic for years.
Ellis says she hoped to have another embryo implanted later this year, after her 40th birthday. But now, she says, that likely won’t happen.
“I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to say,” she recalls of the moment she got the news in a phone call on Friday. “I just broke down crying. I was still in denial … my first thought was, ‘There go my babies. I’m not going to be able to have kids anymore.”
Ellis says that the clinic offered to pay for both storage fees and perform the embryo creation procedure again free of charge. However, Ellis says that at nearly 40 years old, “I don’t know if I can do this again.”
Many families received what Ellis called a “general letter” in the mail, notifying them of the malfunction. About a week later, staff members began speaking with families directly to deliver the heartbreaking news.
Danelle Yerkey, another patient who had her embryos stored in the facility, calls the situation a “nightmare.”
“This is a disaster,” she tells PEOPLE. “So many are devastated … people need to know the severity of this nightmare.”
Rachael Hyster, who underwent IVF and gave birth to “two beautiful daughters,” says she and the other women are crushed and desperate for answers.
“My husband and I are heartbroken as they have taken away our chance to add to our family if we wanted to,” she tells PEOPLE. “I feel my loss is minimal to some of the families, this was their only hope to have a biological child of their own.”
At least two proposed class action lawsuits have been filed against the Cleveland clinic, Cleveland.com reports.
Around the same time as the Ohio incident, the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco also experienced a storage tank malfunction, according to CNN. Officials said that a piece of equipment in the storage unit “lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time” on March 4.
Neither the University Hospitals Fertility Clinic nor the Pacific Fertility Center immediately responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.