Fertility treatment for men with spinal injuries
Two men with spinal injuries – Jim Barker, from Surrey, England and Brian Hucker from Bicester, England – each describe their experiences of fertility treatment.
I am 28 and my wife Claire Is 27. I have a T12 spinal Injury as a result of an accident at work four years ago and the doctors were all very pessimistic about the prospect of my ever becoming a father. However, as time passed we both felt keen to start a family. We heard about a new fertility treatment that was being pioneered with men who had had spinal cord injuries and wondered whether this might be for us.
I suppose the first hurdle we had to overcome was that of finding a reputable and successful Clinic and Doctor who offered the (at that time unknown) treatment, and who could give professional advice on the best treatment and the time at which to have it.
Dr Rainsbury was recommended by various sources and was at that time located at the Boume-Hallam Clinic in Harley Street, London. After a consultation with Dr Rainsbury he suggested the best treatment for our situation. For one reason or another we didn’t seek to have the treatment for about another year. By that time Dr Rainsbury had moved to the BUPA Roding Hospital in Ilford, Essex. This was, for us, a better location as it was closer to our home and so easier to get to.
Dr Rainsbury suggested we start sooner rather than later as sperm count tends to drop off after a spinal injury. I was due to go away for four months so we started the treatment two months prior to this. It was relatively straightforward for me since the sperm was collected in one attempt with the electro-ejaculation and although this was done under general anesthetic I was back at work the next day. Claire had to endure the tougher side of the treatment of egg collection and IVF. We had been told that the optimum number of IVF treatments for a pregnancy was 4 but in fact Claire became pregnant after the first IVF treatment.
We didn’t go through the trials and tribulations of beginning treatment and then still wondering one or two years later whether it was going to ever work. Had it not worked, I suppose the other option was to adopt a baby – though this would probably be a more difficult route due to public opinion.
The treatment received from Dr Rainsbury was excellent, for both myself and my wife and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. I suppose the question of cost must come into it at some point, but again because of the quickness of success in our case it didn’t become a major issue. However, it is easy to see how it may dissuade other couples from attempting to become parents since receiving such treatment on the National Health Service would be unlikely if not impossible.
From my point of view there are no cons about the
treatment although I think it was more difficult for my wife. There can only be pros about being an expectant father albeit with trepidation. As with any new parents it is an unknown quantity as to how either of us will react – you can read all the books but until the baby is born we do not know how we will cope with little or no sleep!
It all started In February 1989 when my partner Maggie and I decided to try for our first baby. How life is full of surprises, because on April 28 I had a sporting accident that left me with complete paraplegia at the T4 level. During the next five months in hospital we were more or less told that our chances of having our own children would be extremely slim due to my spinal cord injury.
Shortly after leaving hospital we heard of a trial program between Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Cambridgeshire. This was going to be a trial funded by the David Tolkein Trust to assist spinal cord injured men to become fathers.
After careful persuasion and discussions with my consultant at Stoke we were accepted onto a pilot program with other couples with whom all the males had some kind of spinal injury.
The pilot program was to follow a specific protocol that had been set out and put to the British Medical Association ethics committee for clearance to proceed. The fertility treatment was to start with low tech methods of treatment i.e. artificial insemination and then progress on to high tech methods such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) depending on the individual couples.
We were introduced to Mr Rainsbury who would be in charge of our treatment. Due to my injuries it was necessary to have special treatment to retrieve the sperm which was of poor quality and low in numbers as compared to an able-bodied male. Having tried different ways of retrieving the sperm from me which all turned out to be unsuccessful the treatment used was electro-ejaculation which proved successful and at that time was a relatively new method in this country. The electro-ejaculation was carried out under mild sedation which would leave me feeling a little tired afterwards. Apart from that I never suffered any other side effects from this treatment.
As we got under way with our treatment we both began to realize how stressful this type of treatment could be, not only the amount of traveling we were doing to and from the clinic but also the need for Maggie to have constant monitoring and daily injections of hormone stimulants which could be for up to a month before as well as during each treatment cycle.
To cut a long story short over the next three years we had 5 attempts at artificial insemination and six attempts at IVF. Two attempts of IVF were aborted due to no live or motile sperm upon collection, which was put down to urinary tract infections on my part. On our final attempt on the program Maggie fell pregnant but this was short lived due to an early miscarriage.
By this time we had become very despondent as a lot of the other couples on the program had fallen pregnant and had become parents or were awaiting the birth of their babies. We had to come to terms with the fact that we might never have children of our own. Although the program was not successful for us it was for many others and the knowledge gained by the clinic and other people involved in the program will be invaluable for the future.
For the next year we tried to put the past behind us and rest up from the last three years which had taken a lot from us both mentally and physically and practically taken over our lives.
We kept in touch with Mr Rainsbury who by now had gained great experience in treatment for people with spinal injuries. We heard he had started a new IVF clinic at the Roding Hospital in Essex so we made an appointment to see him. We had decided to try one last attempt so went away to save our money as we would have to fund this attempt ourselves.
The treatment went extremely smoothly and I will never forget the shock we got when we returned to the hospital for the pregnancy test and they told us it was positive. Although we were both overjoyed with the news we were both reluctant to celebrate as we knew it was very early days, and over the next few months it was one worry after another hoping the pregnancy would not miscarry as it had before.
The pregnancy continued to be a worry with Maggie being admitted into hospital at 29 weeks with pre-eclampsia, this had sent her blood pressure sky high and it was touch and go as to whether they delivered the baby there and then. Luckily she remained there until the birth of our daughter, Tessa, who, at 35 weeks, was a little premature but everything went perfectly. It’s hard to describe the moment when you first see your baby at the birth. Tessa weighed in at 5lb 15oz, in perfect health and absolutely beautiful.
At the time of writing Tessa is 10 weeks old and continuing to take over our lives as she begins to demand more and more of our time. We are sharing all the work and really enjoying being parents. Maggie will be returning to full time work in January when Tessa will be 6 months and we are planning to get part time help from a childminder but as I am not working at the moment I will be the primary ‘child carer’.
It is now approaching 5 years since we first started on our quest to have our own family. Then I was 31 years old and Maggie was 33 and, despite all the hard work and heartache, we can only say how glad we are that we carried on. The treatment we have received along the way has been first class and most professional, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who could be in the same situation as we were, but I would recommend you get a consultation with the consultant to plan the best way ahead.
Was it all worth it? Would we go through it again? You Bet!