Dozen of Children's Stem Cells Destroyed after Freezer at LA Children's Hospital Breaks

Dozens of children have lost their stem cells after a freezer at a hospital in California malfunctioned and destroyed their samples.

A total of 56 Children's Hospital Los Angeles patients, including those treated for cancer, were affected when a temperature sensor in a freezer failed according to a statement. The institution admitted safeguards in place "were insufficient."

The situation worsened when the letters alerting families were mistakenly sent to the children rather than their parents.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles apologized for "any distress or confusion that this has caused our patients and their families."

It also apologized for addressing the letters to patients, and said it was reviewing its notification process to "ensure this does not happen again."

"No child's health is in jeopardy due to this incident," the hospital said.

The blood stem cells were collected from patients and were being stored in a freezer long-term. The hospital explained the cells are collected early on in a child's oncology treatment in case they can be used in the future.

"When excess cells are not needed, they remain in storage in the unlikely event that they could become helpful in the future," according to the hospital.

Following the incident, the freezer which malfunctioned has been replaced, and the hospital has upgraded its sensor monitoring and alert system. The organization has "double-checked" power supply sources, upped its maintenance schedule, and plans to train its engineering team to use the new system.

Families who have not been contacted have not been impacted, the hospital stated.

The institution has set up a phone line for affected families: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­1-877-622-2130.

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The stem cells of 56 patients have been destroyed after a freezer failed at a children's hospital in Los Angeles. A stock image shows a woman reading to a sick child in hospital. Getty

Stem cells are unspecialized, and can be used to create other types of tissue and organ cells. As chemotherapy can destroy stem cells, harvested cells can be transplanted into a child so their body can produce mature blood cells once again.

Dr. James Stein, chief medical officer of Children's Hospital Los Angeles told ABC 7 patients can have their stem cells collected again if necessary.

Sean Anderson Coronoa, 13, was among those who lost their stem cells. He was diagnosed with Stage Four Neuroblastoma, and is in remission.

Recalling the process of having his stem cells extracted, which can take a couple of days, he told ABC7: "It was painful.

"I would try to sleep and my body would just start shaking, and then I just started to freak out and I'd start crying."

His mother Elizabeth Anderson told the broadcaster she fears that if her son's cancer returns, his body may not be up to having his stem cells extracted once more.

"He doesn't have that as an option to just collect more," she said.

Anderson Coronoa said he "started crying" when he read the letter. His mother said she would not have told him if the letter had been addressed to her.