New Treatments Available for Local Couples with Infertility Issues
When a woman wants to have a child, it seems like the smiling, cooing faces of babies are everywhere, and everyone around her is pregnant.
"I'm 34. (I'll be) 35 this year," says Kristine Luong. "(My husband and I ) have been married for almost five years, and we've been trying for three and a half, four years."
Luong and her husband Ninh are no different from the one in six American couples who are having trouble conceiving.
"But after thinking, 'Why me?' You come to find there are a lot of other people that are going through it," says Luong.
Dr. Maher Abdallah sees between 30 and 40 new patients a month at his new clinic in Palm Springs. Although other physicians practice infertility medicine part-time in the desert, Abdallah's American Reproductive Centers is the only place in the Coachella Valley patients like Luong can receive in vitro fertilization, often described as the complicated, expensive and most effective last resort for many couples.
Abdallah explains the IVF process: "We extract the eggs from the ovaries, we inject the sperm into the egg, and we form an embryo in the incubator, allow it to grow for five days, then transfer the embryo into the uterus."
Before the opening of American Reproductive Centers, which is now located across from Desert Regional Medical Center on Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, couples in the valley had to drive to Loma Linda, Los Angeles, Orange County or San Diego for IVF treatment.
"When you're going through the medication process, you're here two to three times a week," explains Luong. "It's a lot of travel, so whoever decides to go through this process really have to commit themselves to taking the time."
Abdallah explains there's a misconception about the people that make up the Coachella Valley "Most people think this is an older, retirement community. When in fact... the fastest rising population is the young population."
Abdallah's patients range in age from their mid-20s to well past age 40.
But he says that "Odds are very slim (of conception), at age 43 or 44, even with in vitro fertilization." He adds "There's a rapid decline even in egg quality after the age of 27, and past 35 you see it even more significantly."
And the increasing numbers of aging Hollywood stars having children in their 40s doesn't help the perception that fertility is ageless, Abdallah says. "What's missing from all these stories is that the patients most commonly used an egg donor who was 21 or 22 years of age."
Locally, Abdallah adds "We're seeing a lot of egg freezing among women in the Coachella Valley
who are professionals and just want to save it for later on so that they just know they have that chance to conceive."
The reality is that after age 40, conception often occurs in a lab like Abdallah's.
But the difference, at least lately, and the reason he's been so successful in getting women pregnant is a breakthrough in embryonic testing.
Pointing to an embryo under a microscope, embryologist Susan Smith explains, "We can look at embryos that look perfect like this, and they're not genetically normal."
Abdallah and Smith can test a couple's embryos pre-implantation to make sure there are no chromosomal abnormalities.
"The most common reason why women miscarry is because the embryo is not genetically normal-- so we exclude down's syndrome and other anomalies before the pregnancy happens (in the lab)," Abdallah explains. "This allows us to pick embryos that look good under the microscope, meaning they divided, and at the same time, genetically normal. And that's really enhancing our pregnancy outcome."
The Luongs decided to go through with genetic testing when they went through their first cycle of in vitro.
"And I had to be thankful for genetic testing" Luong says, "because the doctor would have transferred those
embryos and most likely I would have miscarried. It saved us a lot of heartache and sadness."
In early February, Luong and her husband started their second cycle of IVF treatment.
"It's a high risk you take, going through IVF that you will get pregnant," she says.
But she dreams of one day sharing some good news with her family.
"I know for sure, my dad would be overjoyed. He has been wanting grandkids forever. I know it would just be this genuine happiness for us all."
When to seek treatment
"There seems to be a misconception of when you need to see the physician (for treatment of infertility)," says Abdallah. "The right answer is that if a woman is over 35, who has normal menstrual cycles. If she tries for six months and cannot conceive she should go see a fertility doctor. And younger than 35 with normal cycles within a year they should conceive." However, Abdallah adds, some women "go through premature ovarian failure in their early 20's."
New data from the Texas Center from Reproductive Acupuncture found that after a year of unprotected sex, 15 percent to 16 percent of 288 couples surveyed who were trying to get pregnant could not conceive.
Financial Cost of IVF
An average cycle of in vitro fertilization costs $15,000. Abdallah estimates less than 10 percent of his patients have a healthcare plan that covers IVF treatment. Treatment plans vary depending on the facility and physician. A single cycle of IVF at American Reproductive Centers is $8,000, and two cycles is $12,000. However, some costs for treatment are not included.
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