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40 lawsuits filed vs. Northwestern over destroyed sperm samples

Corboy   Demetrio attorney Matthew T. Jenkins announces news conference Tuesday th40 lawsuits have been filed for patients whose

Corboy & Demetrio attorney Matthew T. Jenkins announces at a news conference Tuesday that 40 lawsuits have been filed for patients whose sperm samples were destroyed at a lab owned by Northwestern Memorial Hospital. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 22, 2013 6:26AM

Forty lawsuits were filed Tuesday against Northwestern Memorial Hospital for patients whose sperm samples were destroyed while stored in a chamber owned by the hospital.

Many of the patients represented by the lawsuit had cancer, gene disorder or other illnesses that could leave them infertile because of the disease or treatment for it.

“Freezing their sperm was the only real hope they had for ever having biological children,” Corboy & Demetrio attorney Matthew T. Jenkins said, who is co-defending the patients. “That opportunity was lost with this failure.”

The lawsuits allege that in April 2012, the cryopreservation and storage procedure at Northwestern failed, causing damage to semen and testicular tissue. The lawsuits further allege that after it failed, Northwestern failed to adequately monitor and respond when it knew or should have known that its system had failed.

The lawsuit does not name any of the alleged victims, and none could be reached by the Sun-Times.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, which maintained the lab, were both named as defendants.

Three of the plaintiffs were minors at the time. The youngest was just 14with a rare form of cancer.

Other plaintiffs include a 26-year-old man who suffers from a genetic disorder that could render him infertile; a 33-year-old man who has leukemia and was told his radical chemotherapy treatments would likely make him infertile, and a 48-year-old man who had his sperm preserved because he has an illness that could render him infertile.

In a statement, the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation acknowledged that the cryogenic storage tank used by the foundation for long-term storage of sperm samples “malfunctioned.”

A round-the-clock alarm system also failed to alert foundation technicians to the problem, the statement said.

“We deeply regret that this occurred, and understand how upsetting this can be to our patients,” the foundation statement said.

The statement said the foundation contacted more than 250 patients who had sperm samples in the sperm bank, but a spokesman said they could not say how many of those were affected.

An attorney for the plaintiffs noted that more people were likely affected than the 40 people represented by Corboy & Demetrio.

“There were certainly other specimen vials that were in the same tank that failed,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also said that he recognized that products can fail at any time, but that’s why it’s necessary to have precautions in place.

“That was not the case here,” he said, noting that multiple samples from patients were put in the same container.

A hospital spokesman declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.

The amount the plaintiffs are seeking was not specified.

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