Officials say a freezer malfunction at an Ohio fertility clinic that resulted in the loss of thousands of eggs and embryos was likely caused by human error.
Earlier this month, officials with University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland announced that an “unexpected temperature fluctuation” within the storage bank impacted several embryos. Now, officials say the remote alarm system on the storage tank, designed to alert staff to any temperature changes, had been turned off, according to a letter published on the clinic’s website on Tuesday.
“We don’t know who turned off the remote alarm nor do we know how long it was off, but it appears to have been off for a period of time,” according to the letter to patients. “We are still seeking those answers.”
Officials noted that the alarm remained off throughout the weekend of March 3.
In the letter, Clinic authorities also admitted that 4,000 eggs and embryos were affected — twice the number officials initially estimated.
“We are heartbroken to tell you that it’s unlikely any are viable,” the letter states.
News of the malfunction first broke earlier this month, leaving hundreds of families wondering if their eggs and embryos had been lost. Among those patience is Christina Ellis, who had two embryos saved at the clinic. She previously told PEOPLE that a clinic employee called her and told her that her embryos were no longer viable.
“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 said.
“We thought,’ [my daughter’s] going to have her siblings, and that was our whole goal and now that’s just been crushed.”
In a previous statement to PEOPLE, officials said they are offering the devastated patients an “in vitro package tailored to their individual clinical needs.”
“We also will refund storage fees and will waive storage fees in the future for seven years. A signed release will not be requested for them to obtain these services,” according to the statement.
“We already have purchased new storage tanks. The new tanks have new alarms from a different vendor.”
Several patients have filed lawsuits against the clinic. However, officials said they will not be commenting publicly on any pending litigation.