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New Hope for Childless : Huntington Memorial Hospital to Offer Ovum Transfers to Infertile Women

January 22, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

In the next few weeks, an advertisement will appear in San Gabriel Valley newspapers showing a woman and child and asking a simple question: "Remember your baby's first touch?"

Beneath the question, the ad says, "Help the women who never will."

The plea is part of an areawide search by Huntington Memorial Hospital for healthy women willing to participate in an infertility treatment program that will start at the Pasadena hospital in March.

The program involves a recently developed technique called ovum transfer, which allows women with no eggs of their own to carry and give birth to a child using eggs donated by another woman.

The non-surgical treatment involves fertilizing an egg in the donor through artificial insemination and, after a short growth period, transfering the fertilized egg into the uterus of the infertile woman, who carries the child through a normal pregnancy and delivers the baby.

Related Only to Father

The child will be genetically related only to its father, who provides the sperm to inseminate the donor's egg. However, for many couples whose only alternative had been adoption, the advantages of ovum transfer outweigh the fact the egg is another woman's.

"The child may not have my genes, but it is still going to be my husband's sperm," said one woman enrolled in a similar program at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach. "And I'm going to carry it. To carry the child is really important to me."

The treatment, which was developed by a team of doctors at Harbor/UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and Dr. Leonardo Formigli, an Italian physician, has resulted in nine births since clinical experimentation began in 1982.

The treatment has been available on an experimental basis in this country since 1982 and became available to patients last October, when the first ovum transfer clinic was opened at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach.

Huntington Memorial will be the second hospital in the country to open a clinic.

The clinics in Long Beach, Pasadena and Milan are joint ventures with a private company, Fertility and Genetics Research Inc., which plans to operate up to 50 ovum transfer clinics nationwide over the next five to seven years.

The clinics could treat an estimated 12,500 infertile women a year, according to Dr. John R. Marshall, former chairman of Harbor/UCLA Medical Center's department of obstetrics and gynecology and now medical director for Fertility and Genetics Research.

Marshall said he expects the clinic at Huntington Memorial to treat up to 150 women during its first year and up to 250 women a year in the next two years as the number of women willing to donate eggs increases.

The treatment has produced pregnancies in about 10% of the inseminations so far, Marshall said. That compares to a success rate of 3% to 30% reported for in vitro, or "test-tube," fertilization, according to figures provided by the American Fertility Society.

However, Marshall said that as doctors gain experience with ovum transfer, the success rate will rise as high as 25%, which is the probability of healthy couples conceiving a child during any given month.

Fertility and Genetics Research also plans to begin experimenting soon with so-called superovulatory drugs that increase the number of eggs a donor ovulates, significantly increasing the chances of pregnancy for the infertile woman.

It now costs $2,500 for the health and psychological screening required to enter the ovum transfer program and $2,000 each time a donor is inseminated.

Donors, who also go through a screening process, are paid $35 for each visit to the clinic in connection with the procedure. Donors usually visit the clinic from five to eight times a month.

Some Costs Covered by Insurance

Marshall said some insurance companies cover certain portions of the treatment, reimbursing about one-third of the total cost.

Marshall described the treatment as a "last stop" for couples whose infertility problems had appeared insoluble.

Although modern science has learned to treat a number of infertility problems through drug therapy, microsurgery and test-tube fertilization, there has been little help available for a woman who has no eggs or damaged eggs.

One such woman is Lori, who like many others has gone through the gauntlet of tests and consultations, only to find out nothing could be done.

She was married three years ago and had no idea that she would have a problem conceiving a child.

'Wanted a Family'

"We just wanted to have a family," said Lori, who asked that her family's real names not be used. "It's something you always thought would be so easy."

After discovering her infertility, Lori and her husband, Jim, began researching the topic and searching for a clinic that could help them.

"I just about became a medical student," Jim said. "You spend so much of your life trying not to have a baby and then when you want one, you can't."

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