The Children's Hospital Los Angeles issued a statement and sent letters to 56 families informing them that their child's blood stem cells were lost due to a freezer malfunction caused by a 'failure of freezer temperature sensors' and 'insufficient' safeguards.
'We apologise for any distress or confusion that this has caused our patients and their families,' the hospital statement said. It also stressed that the incident would not jeopardise any child's health.
The blood stem cells were collected from the patients before undergoing cancer treatment and stored in the event they might prove useful in the future.
'These blood stem cells, all of which were collected from patients, were in long-term storage. We routinely collect cells early in a child's course of oncology therapy for possible future use. When excess cells are not needed, they remain in storage in the unlikely event that they could become helpful in the future,' the hospital said.
The hospital offered to assist families if they want to harvest stem cells again; however, Sean Anderson Corona, one the children affected by the incidence, described the process as 'painful' and his mother Elizabeth Anderson expressed concern.
'Once you're through that whole process of doing all the treatment, you've damaged your body,' Anderson told KABC. 'That's how damaging chemo is or the radiation alone. And so it's the same with the stem cells. He doesn't have that as an option to just collect more.'
Dr James Stein, the hospital's chief medical officer, offered reassurance by saying: 'Were there to be a recurrence of disease that required stem cells, the patients can have their stem cells collected again.'
The faulty freezer has since been replaced and sensor-monitoring and alert system have been upgraded. The hospital also apologised for addressing the letters directly to the patients instead of the parents and said it would support families with any questions and follow-up care.
'Obviously, this is a huge deal for us,' said Dr Stein. 'We're reaching out directly to every single family in person to make sure that all their questions are answered.'