25 Investigates: 200 patients impacted after pipe burst closes Brigham & Women’s IVF lab

BOSTON — A water main break on Christmas Eve at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has led to the temporary closure of the hospital’s IVF laboratory – and has impacted some 200 patients hoping to have children, 25 Investigates has learned. Many of those patients’ appointments were canceled.

A spokesperson for the Boston hospital said Tuesday that its support team has reached out to all Brigham and Women’s Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery patients to offer them the opportunity to move forward with egg retrievals and fresh embryo transfers with their clinical teams at Boston IVF, which is affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

But over the past week, multiple patients have reached out to Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh, and said they are devastated that their arduous fertility journeys have been put on hold.

And those patients said the hospital had not provided them with adequate communication or any mental health resources. They say the hospital should have had a better contingency plan in place to ensure patients can get all their questions answered.

“There’s no other words than just soul-crushing,” said one patient. “Heartbreaking. Devastating. It’s not life or death, but it is what we have been living for.”

That patient – a New Hampshire woman who requested anonymity to talk about her fertility care – shared medical records detailing her journey with 25 Investigates.

The patient said she has been going through fertility treatments for 16 months.

Records of her IVF appointments showed she’s now supposed to be in the home stretch.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, the patient told Kavanaugh that she has been unsuccessful in her attempts to speak directly with someone on her clinical team.

“So, I still have yet to have a conversation with a live person at Brigham,” the patient said.

That means for the past week, she’s been struggling to figure out the next steps in her fertility journey.

“...All of the hard work and appointments and tough procedures was finally going to get us closer to having a baby,” the patient told Kavanaugh. “And to have that all come crashing down on Christmas, nonetheless, it was soul-crushing.”

The patient said she first learned about the issue when she received a Christmas voicemail from a doctor – whom she says she’s never met – from Brigham and Women’s Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery.

On December 26, she planned to have blood work, preparing for an embryo transfer that would hopefully lead to a pregnancy.

Now, it’s all on pause.

“We’re hanging on to a glimmer of hope here and, you know, hoping to get just an ounce of communication,” she said.

In an Instagram post late last week, Brigham and Women’s Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery announced a “notice of temporary closure.”

That post was published days after the December 24 pipe burst.

The post said all eggs and embryos were safe – but that the hospital was suspending operations during repairs. The post estimated the closure could last a month.

Alexis Goulette, who runs a Facebook IVF support group, said she’s heard from several Brigham and Women’s patients who are not only devastated – but don’t know what’s next.

“After all the months of testing, poking, prodding, waiting, wishing you finally get to that point where your embryo is waiting for you,” Goulette said. “That’s that moment and then you get canceled.”

Jessica Pastore, a spokesperson for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told 25 Investigates in an interview that workers at the hospital were repairing another issue when a pipe burst on December 24.

The spokesperson said firefighters and engineers worked through Christmas to mitigate the impact on multiple areas of the hospital, including the IVF clinic. She said the damage was isolated to the walls of the IVF laboratory

Pastore said that the hospital had notified every patient about the temporary laboratory closure and “talked through a plan with them.”

“The only impact is moving them to a different site,” she said. “And there were some embryos in the 48-hour window that were frozen to ensure their protection.”

She said the hospital is also providing support through its “patient and family relations team.”

Pastore said no embryos were impacted when the pipe burst.

In a statement to 25 Investigates, Pastore provided additional details:

“In the early morning hours of December 24, Brigham and Women’s Hospital was impacted by a water main break, which affected several areas across the hospital, including our IVF Clinic, Rehabilitation Department, and the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families,” the statement says. “Our teams, supported by the Boston Fire Department, moved quickly overnight to remove water from all affected areas and safely transfer patients to other units in the hospital.”

“For our IVF patients, our clinical teams have reached out to all impacted patients, offering them the opportunity to move forward with egg retrievals and fresh embryo transfers with their same clinical teams at an alternative site,” the statement continued.

“Importantly, all of the embryos and eggs in our storage tanks are safe and unaffected and they continue to be securely stored in our alarmed, continuously monitored tanks,” reads the statement. “We are providing support to our patients through our patient and family relations team and appreciate their understanding as we work to minimize disruption and ensure a seamless transition while remediation is completed. We are also thankful for our incredible staff who worked quickly to mitigate the situation.”

Resolve New England is offering a free, virtual support group on Tuesday, January 2 from 7-8:30 p.m. that is open to anyone impacted. We will let you know if any other support groups are scheduled.

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