Revolution Health expert, Dr. Rafat Abbasi, is a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist in Washington, D.C. She told me this exciting story about a miracle baby that brought great joy to a young family. She hopes that this news will bring hope to other young men and women who have spinal cord injuries and want to have children.
Dr. Val: Tell me about the fertility success story that has you so excited.
Dr. Abbasi: A young couple was referred to me because they wanted to have a baby. They had been married for about a year, and had been through one miscarriage already. Sadly, the young husband (he is about 35 years old) was then involved in a freak mountain biking accident and broke his neck, severing his spinal cord. He was paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair, unable to function sexually. His 29 year old wife and he were devastated.
They came to me wondering if there was any way that they could get pregnant under the current circumstances. And due to the amazing advances in fertility treatments, I was pleased to report to them that there was a chance that they could. I explained how we’d do it.
First we had to collect some sperm from the testes of the husband. We could do this by using an electric current to stimulate a spontaneous ejaculation reflex and then inseminate the wife with the fluid, or if that didn’t work, we could withdraw some immature sperm directly from the testes with a needle. I explained that if we retrieved the sperm with a needle we’d need to mature the sperm in a test tube incubator overnight, and retrieve eggs from her and then use in-vitro fertilization techniques to create embryos to implant into her womb. In order to get the eggs, we’d need to use egg-stimulating hormones (for about 10-12 days) and an ultrasound-guided needle retrieval technique (under local anesthesia).
As it turns out, we used the second method for this couple. We transferred three embryos and one of them took, and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The couple is now interested in having a second baby.
Dr. Val: Isn’t it true that spinal cord injury can contribute to infertility? How does that work?
Dr. Abbasi: Over time, men who’ve had a spinal cord injury suffer from testicular atrophy which affects their hormone levels and can make it much more difficult to retrieve viable sperm. Fertility rates start to decrease substantially 5-7 years after a spinal cord injury.
Dr. Val: What made this story touching for you?
Dr. Abbasi: I think the whole story is incredibly touching because this young man, who was in the prime of his life, had a freak accident that took away his hope of ever having kids. His rehabilitation medicine physician thought to refer him to a fertility specialist (because he’d heard about the technique we use to retrieve sperm from patients who’ve had spinal cord injuries) and now he’s blessed with a family. Until then he mistakenly believed that there was no hope for a pregnancy after his injury. His life is different now due to his physical limitations, but he is full of joy because of his baby daughter. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.