Fertility Patient Success Stories

These are the stories of some of our patients. While all are inspirational, each is also unique and informative, allowing us to view the way in which these couples handled the challenges of their infertility.

PROFILE:  Lynda & John

“Trying to stop a woman from wanting to have a baby is like trying to stop a freight train” This is how Lynda described her own feelings about the struggle that she and her husband John went through when they first began to try to have a baby. “I’m the kind of personality,” she adds, “that – if it is not happening yesterday—then I want to move along to the next thing and get things done.” But in spite of her determination, as well as the fact that both Lynda & John are accomplished physicians (in specialties unrelated to fertility) the path that led them both to IRMS and to parenthood would not be easy.

Because she was already in her mid-thirties (and her husband was in his early 50s) when they first began trying to become pregnant, Lynda didn’t wait long before consulting her regular OB/GYN about fertility treatments. He prescribed a common fertility medication as well as timed intercourse— which in many cases is a standard first approach to treating infertility.

For John and Lynda, however this approach was stressful. “It takes a lot of the spontaneity out of things” says Lynda with embarrassment. “It was like: ‘OK—the doctor said we had to have intercourse now—it’s 6pm—let’s go…’”

But far worse than just being a mood-dampener, John and Lynda found that this first line approach was also ineffective. So they made the decision to seek out a fertility specialist near their hometown in Florida. “I had a feeling that things were going to have to ramp up” says Lynda. After consulting with their new physician, the decision was made to try intrauterine insemination.

Lynda remembers the process vividly: “we went through one cycle [of intrauterine insemination] that didn’t work—and then we went through a second cycle that resulted in a pregnancy… and everyone was overjoyed , it was wonderful, we went in, we had a six-week ultrasound… we had a heartbeat…we had a pregnancy.” Elated, Lynda did what any expectant mother would do—she went shopping for her new baby. “And I bought a little toy—a stuffed animal or something—just to kind of kind of commemorate it. “

But all of Lynda and John’s joys were dashed just days later, when a subsequent ultrasound revealed that the heartbeat had ceased, and the pregnancy had spontaneously aborted. “I can remember that when we lost that baby that it was unfortunate that I had bought that present for myself or the baby or whatever… it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Stunned with grief, Lynda and John paused to reconsider their options, but ultimately persevered in their efforts to become parents. Hormone treatments and repeated cycles of intrauterine insemination eventually resulted in still another pregnancy—with triplets. But tragically—this pregnancy also ended in miscarriage. This time, a genetic analysis of fetal tissue was performed, and revealed serious abnormalities in each of the three embryos. Their physician was stumped. “I knew that he really wanted to help us” says Lynda, “but he looked us in the eye, and basically admitted that he didn’t think he could… And that is when he talked about those letters P.G.D.”

Lynda still becomes emotional when she recalls the day that she was implanted with two of her own healthy embryos. She was fully awake during the procedure, and recalls that after the implantation, her doctor handed her photographs of each of the newly implanted embryos.

“You know what?” she said, “I’m not sure I really want these.” And she started to cry. “I don’t know if this is going to work, and I am not sure if I want these sorts of memories.” But in spite of her fears, Lynda decided to keep the photos. Nine months after the procedure, twins Catherine and Elizabeth were born – completely healthy and as photogenic as the day they were implanted. Three years later, Lynda has no regrets about holding onto the images—“They are the first pictures in our photo album of our kids. I’m glad I kept them—they’re really cool.” Likewise, Lynda and John are more than satisfied with their decision to come to IRMS. “They are the best in the country” Lynda explains, “In my estimation; they wrote the book on this technique, and why not go the place where they wrote the book?

PROFILE: Hanna & Jack

“We started to try to have kids, and I got pregnant right away. There was no problem at all to get pregnant. And then I had a miscarriage. Right in the beginning – like two months into it… not even two months…” This is how Hanna Shapiro describes the beginning of her long ordeal.

Friends and family told her not to worry, that such things were not uncommon, but Hanna was worried. She told herself at first that it must be because of her age (although she was scarcely into her thirties), but soon enough she began to worry that there was something else that might be the cause of her miscarriage. “My oldest brother and his wife had extreme difficulty having kids. And they had an extraordinary number of miscarriages—10 or 13—something like that.”

After a second miscarriage, Hanna and her husband sought out a local infertility specialist. After a third, Hanna went for sophisticated genetic testing in New York City-- it was then that she learned that she and her older brother both shared something in common: a tiny genetic ‘spelling error’ known as a chromosomal translocation. Some studies suggest that this condition affects 3 – 5% of couples with recurrent miscarriage. In this case, the genetic flaw was invisible—it caused no physical or medical problems for Hanna herself—but it made the process of having children into a dangerous roll of the dice. It was not certain that every one of Hanna’s embryos would inherit this flaw—but it was certain that any that did inherit the translocation would likely perish before birth, or in the unlikely event that the baby survived, it would be born with serious abnormalities.

Apparently by virtue of sheer persistence, Hanna’s brother and sister-in-law were ultimately successful—they now have three children. Hanna and her husband Jack were motivated to persevere. Hanna says “We kept following in my brother’s footsteps, because obviously it worked for them. And when you can see and know people—especially people that you love—with all of these nieces and nephews, it really gives you more of a faith that this is all going to work out.”

Hanna and her husband even went as far as to work with her brother and sister-in-law’s infertility specialist. But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, nothing seemed to change—Hanna would become pregnancy, but after a period of weeks, the pregnancy was lost. “Even though it was extremely difficult to go through repeated miscarriages, I just kept thinking it would work—because it had worked for them.”

“Somewhere around that time, I started researching chromosomal translocations, and what could be done, … and there was some work being done by a researcher named Santiago Munne, Ph.D., with a procedure called PGD—Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. PGD is a procedure that, when performed in conjunction with in vitro fertilization, or IVF, greatly reduces the risk of miscarriage “and so my husband and I went to IRMS at Saint Barnabas…”

At IRMS, Hanna and her husband consulted with the staff, and learned that they were good candidates for PGD. They were reluctant to proceed, however, in large part because of concerns that insurance would not cover the expense of the procedure. That circumstance changed the following year, however, with the passage of a law enabling many women like Hanna to receive insurance reimbursement for PGD. Hanna and her husband returned to IRMS with renewed confidence in both the procedure and the entire team of people who would be involved in administering it.

“Not only were we committed to try the PGD there, and feeling most confident in doing it there because of the expertise—the medical expertise as well as the technical expertise of the people running the lab—but we also had the support of the bill that allowed us to get insurance reimbursement.”

The procedure that Hanna was about to undergo was complex. Because PGD must be performed on human eggs in a laboratory setting, this required Hanna to undergo hormonal treatments in order to stimulate the maturation of multiple eggs from her ovaries. Hanna was monitored on a daily basis in order to precisely determine the time when these eggs would be released from her ovaries and available for retrieval. When the eggs were mature, approximately 20 eggs were retrieved and placed in incubators in the laboratory.

At about the same time, sperm was collected from Hanna’s husband. These sperm are used to fertilize all of Hanna’s eggs in the laboratory. These fertilized eggs are now separated and allowed to begin developing for a period of approximately three days. Eggs that are successfully fertilized form microscopic embryos, which consist of approximately 6 to 8 cells by day three. This is the point where PGD takes place.

During PGD, a single cell, called a blastomere, is carefully recovered from the tiny embryo. This process is performed under very controlled conditions, and there is very little risk of damage to the embryo from this procedure. An array of genetic tests are performed on this single cell, and from these tests, embryologists can determine the genetic health, or viability, of the embryo from which this single blastomere was recovered. If the embryo is found to be viable, then there is a significantly lower risk of miscarriage during pregnancy. If genetic flaws are found, then the corresponding embryo is at a much greater risk of spontaneous miscarriage or birth defects.

Using PGD, physicians can determine which retrieved embryos are most likely to be healthy, or viable. Complete certainty is never a possibility because some rare genetic defects may not show up on PGD, and also because developing embryos may be subject to difficulties that are not caused by genetic conditions. For this reason, it is common for physicians to discuss with a couple the possibility of transferring more than one healthy embryo back into the mother’s uterus. Typically the number is anywhere from one to three embryos. This does raise the possibility of multiple births, so it is only done in consultation with the couple.

“In our case…” says Hanna, “only one [embryo] had the full chromosomal complement that would most likely make it viable… so that one was transferred. But I didn’t get pregnant— it didn’t result in a pregnancy.”

It would have been understandable at this point for Hanna and her husband to give up, retreat from the pain, and react bitterly to the experience. But something was different this time around. For the first time in years, Hanna had hope. “I was really impressed by Saint Barnabas. By the whole procedure—everything that they had told you—all of the information that they gave you; the way that you were treated as a patient; the medical expertise, the technical expertise, the whole thing was a positive experience—even though it didn’t result in a pregnancy.”

Armed with new hope, Hanna & Jack decided to try again. And the procedure was exactly the same—Hanna received hormone treatments, her eggs were retrieved and fertilized, PGD was performed, and again, only a single embryo was found to be viable.

That single embryo was transferred back into Hanna’s womb, in exactly the same process that had taken place only months before.

But this time, something was different. The embryo implanted itself in Hanna’s uterus. Hanna was pregnant—this time with what Hanna and everyone around her hoped would be a healthy baby. After having suffered so much loss and heartbreak in the past, Hanna and her husband told no one about the pregnancy. It was too early, and it seemed all too easy for something to go wrong. In fact, nothing extraordinary happened until it was time for a routine six-week ultrasound.

ldquo;I will never forget this—as long as I live!” vows Hanna. “They were doing an ultrasound—and this is something that has been done to you – if you have been through this process [repeated infertility treatments] – 30, 40, 50 times. During a regular pregnancy, you have a couple of them, but when you have this sort of treatment, you’re having this sort of ultrasound all of the time.” “So I am lying there, having this ultrasound…” Hanna says, “… and all I wanted at that point was for Dr. Chen to say: ‘Here’s the heartbeat’ – and I would have felt good… like everything is okay.” And instead, Dr. Chen said-- very matter-of-factly-- ‘I think I see two…’”

Indeed, the single embryo that had been transferred back into Hanna’s womb had spontaneously developed into identical twins. “My initial response was total denial” claims Hanna, “and I kind of thought that maybe they hadn’t changed the screen [on the ultrasound machine] from the woman before me. In my mind, I’m like: ‘Maybe it’s not me!’ Then I rolled with it, so it was pretty exciting that it was two babies.”

Over the remaining duration of Hanna’s pregnancy, her twins continued to develop normally and without incident. Her two boys, Jason and Joshua were delivered by caesarian section, very healthy and very well loved. Today the toddlers enjoy bouncing on their baby swings and playing with the family dog. It seems all they needed was a good start.

PROFILE: Pat and Barbara

Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer when her son Drew was one year old. Doctors advised against having more children. “Hearing that was harder than the cancer diagnosis,” says Barbara, who had hoped to have three children. She and her husband, who both come from families of three, wanted Drew to have siblings.

Barbara wondered if she was being ungrateful. She had a happy, healthy child, but all she wanted was another one. “I was putting all of this guilt on myself,” she says. “But for me being able to have another child felt like life goes on, and I’m not letting the cancer control my life.”

Barbara and her sister, Nicole, were tested for the hereditary BRCA2 gene mutation, which is linked to cancers of the breast and ovaries; they learned Barbara was a carrier and Nicole was not. As a precaution, Barbara had her ovaries removed. With no means of producing eggs, and an illness that could be aggravated by a pregnancy, she and her husband began to investigate their options. Barbara approached her sister about the possibility of her carrying a baby for her. Unfortunately, both women felt the timing was wrong. “My sister hadn’t had a child yet, and she was newly married,” says Barbara.

In December 2004, Nicole and her husband had their first child. Barbara and her husband decided to adopt. Then, in April 2005, Nicole called her sister. “She said, “I’d like to take you up on your offer, I’d like to carry your baby for you,”  Barbara says. “I was floored.”

There followed a series of conversations, psychological counseling sessions, and early-morning visits to IRMS. There Nicole acted as her sister’s gestational carrier coupled with the use of an egg donor, a woman Barbara and Pat brought to NJ through a donor agency.

Within 10 days of Nicole's transfer they all learned the procedure had worked and Nicole was pregnant. Nicole gave birth to her sister and brother-in-law’s daughter Molly.

Molly will know the story of how she came to be, Barbara says. “I’m going to try to make it as normal for her as possible. And she’s got to feel pretty special, you know? All of these people wanted her to be here. Everybody just loves her so much. She’s really just a miracle.”