Ovarian Transplant

by Tom O’Neal

July 15, 2010

On May 27th, Amy and Jason Tucker of Columbia, Illinois became the proud parents of a new baby boy [watch news video]. Grant Patrick Tucker weighed in at 6-pounds, 13-ounces. A new baby is not that unusual, but Grant’s story is a bit different. It didn’t start 9 months before his birth, but more than ten years. And no, the couple didn’t go through years of infertility treatments.

When Amy was a 19-year old college student, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. She knew the cancer treatments would leave her infertile. Dr. Sherman Silber, head of the Infertility Center of St. Louis at St. Luke’s Hospital told her about his work with frozen ovaries. He had had some success freezing ovarian tissue from animals for years, then transplanting it back to find that the ovary functioned normally again. He offered to try it with Amy and she gave the OK.

Dr. Silber took some ovarian tissue and froze it in his lab while Amy was undergoing chemotherapy and even a bone marrow transplant. Amy beat the cancer and more than a decade later, decided to try to start a family. In January, 2009, Dr. Silber transplanted the tissue back into Amy. Although Amy was now 31, her ovarian tissue was that of a 19-year old. The ovary began functioning within a few months and a few months later, she was pregnant [watch news video]. Just under 9 months later (Grant was 3 weeks early), she delivered a healthy baby boy. Amy and Jason are thrilled and have settled in nicely with a new “boss” in the house.

This procedure offers new hope for women battling cancer and worried about their fertility. But there is one aspect of this happy story that bothers Amy and Dr. Silber. Insurance usually won’t pay for it. They consider this an infertility problem and they don’t pay for fertility treatments. Dr. Silber argues that this is a result of cancer treatment and thus insurance should pay. He adds that insurance will pay for breast reconstruction when a woman undergoes a mastectomy due to cancer.

Dr. Silber counts about two dozen success stories using this procedure for women with other female problems. He feels these success stories show this procedure is not experimental and that that argument should be rejected also. Dr. Silber intends to continue the fight to get coverage. He feels so strongly about it that he covers the cost in cancer cases like Amy’s.

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