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Frozen sperm lost in lab failure, lawsuits claim

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Forty men at risk of infertility because of disease or medical treatments sued a Chicago hospital Tuesday, claiming their frozen sperm was destroyed last year when a lab's storage system failed.

The Chicago law firm of Corboy and Demetrio filed 40 separate lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of the men. Attorney Matthew Jenkins said the plaintiffs suffered "profound losses" because they'd hoped to preserve their chances for fathering biological children by storing sperm samples.

The lawsuits claim Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation failed to monitor the cryopreservation system where samples were stored. That system failed in April 2012, according to the lawsuits.

Dr. Phillip Roemer, chief medical officer of Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday that a storage tank and its alarm system failed in April 2012, but testing indicates that some sperm samples may still be viable. NMFF is likely to "assert counterclaims against the manufacturers of the components that failed," Roemer said in the statement.

"We deeply regret that this equipment malfunction occurred, and our primary focus since this incident has been on our patients and their needs," Roemer said.

The John Doe lawsuits don't name the men "due to the sensitive nature of the lawsuits," according to a statement from the plaintiffs' law firm.

The plaintiffs include a boy with a rare form of cancer who was 14 when he had his sperm sample stored and a 33-year-old man with leukemia whose doctors told him chemotherapy treatments could make him infertile, the law firm's statement said.

"These gentlemen were people who had significant illnesses, including rare forms of cancer and genetic disorders, or who were going to have radical chemotherapy or (other) therapy that very likely would render them infertile," Jenkins said.

"This was their one shot" to father biological children, he said. "These are profound losses."