What Doctors Do: Make Babies (with IVF)

Thousands of children have come to be, in part, thanks to the efforts of fertility specialists Sherif Awadalla and Michael Scheiber at the Institute for Reproductive Health.

Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

Awadalla: My father was an anesthesiologist and he said, “Go into any specialty except OB; it’s going to kill you.” Despite that, I went into obstetrics. It was really interesting. During my residency, in vitro fertilization was just taking off.

Scheiber: When I saw embryos for the first time under a microscope, I thought, “That is really, really cool. I want to do that!” It’s so fascinating, and our field is changing so rapidly.

Awadalla: When I started, the in vitro success rate was about 15 percent. And people never asked, “Why is it so low?” Now, if you say we have a 50 percent pregnancy rate, they say, “Why isn’t it better?” It’s ironic how people have come to accept the technology. Literally, the only thing we cannot fix today is the effect of time on the ovaries.

Scheiber:  And we have so much more to offer the men. We can get sperm directly from the testes and inject it into the egg. In the old days—in our field, that’s 10, 12 years ago—many of these people had no choice but donor sperm, had no chance of having their own biological children. And now they do.

Awadalla: Another area is egg freezing. Sperm and embryo freezing have been around for a long time, but eggs are more difficult to freeze. Right now egg freezing is in the research stage. We think in the next two years it will move into the clinical stage.

Scheiber:  Also, for couples with a genetic condition—sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease, Tay-Sachs disease, diseases that are fatal—we can test the embryos before transferring and identify which are not affected by these lethal diseases. In a situation where some disease has been destroying a family for generations, we can say, “It ends with you. You’re going to have a healthy child that has less than a one or two percent risk of this disease.” Right now our work is about 90 percent fertility and 10 percent genetic, but in the next 10 years that might change.

Awadalla: We’re now the largest fertility clinic in Ohio. We’ve had more than 5,000 babies from in vitro fertilization. For many parents, there is a sense of urgency; for many, it’s their only child. Other couples, they’ve built their whole family from IVF.

Scheiber:  We have a baby picnic. It used to be every year, but it’s gotten so big it’s now every other year. We had over a thousand people at the last one. To know what those couples went through and then to see them pushing their kids in a stroller, it just shows what a cool job we have.

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