‘A Child Against All Odds’, Birmingham Couple Star In BBC TV Flagship Fertility Series
Issue Date: 14 November 2006
Tom and Li McLoughlin-Yip are expecting their first baby together in February 2006, after having fertility treatment at Midland Fertility Services (MFS) in Aldridge.
The odds against them ever conceiving a child were huge and their story is part of the BBC’s fertility season, which launches the six-part documentary series, aptly called ‘A Child Against All Odds’, on BBC1 at 9.00pm on Tuesday 14 November.
Tom (41) and Li (38) met in December 2004 and within a couple of months they knew they wanted to be together and have a family. Not unusual plans for a new couple, but both Tom and Li have medical conditions that made it almost impossible for them to conceive naturally and difficult to continue a pregnancy through to giving birth.
Tom has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a chronic genetic condition in men which attacks the lungs and can also affect the pancreas and cause CF-related diabetes. It is the most common genetic condition in the UK and one in 25 people carry the CF gene. Sufferers experience chronic fatigue, sickness, bowel problems, heavy mucus and coughing, causing repeated chest infections requiring intravenous antibiotics and reducing average life expectancy to 31 years.
98% of men with CF are also born without a vas deferens, a tube in the testes which allows sperm to exit naturally. So while his body is able to produce sperm, Tom has always known that he would not be able to conceive a child without fertility treatment.
In addition, Li, a staff nurse in a Birmingham hospital, has Systemic Lupus Erythromatosus (SLE) commonly know as lupus, an auto-immune condition that attacks the body’s cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage. It also makes it difficult to conceive and to carry a baby full-term and Li takes blood-thinning medication to control the condition. But Li’s son Gawin (8) was evidence that her condition would not prevent her conceiving or being able to carry a baby and further medical advice reassured Li that any child would have only a very small chance of having lupus.
Tom and Li talked about the possibility of having a child together: “I’d never really been bothered about having a child and had resigned myself to never being a dad because of the risks to my health, but more importantly, because I didn’t want any baby to risk having CF like me,” said Tom.
“But after I met Li I just knew that I wanted to be a father. And her Chinese origins mean that it is extremely unlikely that she is a CF carrier, so our baby won’t have the condition – although it will be a carrier. CF is predominantly a condition in white, northern Europeans and the incidence in Chinese is very, very low. Knowing this meant we at least had to try.”
At their first appointment at MFS in November 2005, medical director Dr Gillian Lockwood, discussed their full medical histories and outlined the obstacles that could prevent them having a baby – even with a surgical sperm retrieval and ICSI.
ICSI – intra cytoplasmic sperm injection – is where the sperm is injected directly into the jelly-like centre of the egg via a needle 1/10th the width of a human hair. ICSI is always used for surgically retrieved sperm, which are less mature than normally produced sperm. It requires only a single quality sperm for each egg to be fertilised.
Dr Lockwood arranged for baseline blood tests to assess both Li’s and Tom’s hormones to provide an indication of their response to any fertility treatment. At their follow-up appointment, Dr Lockwood explained that while the inhibin B test gave a poor response for Tom’s hormone levels, reassuringly, Li’s was better than average for a woman of her age, so she gave the go ahead for treatment.
In February Tom and Li came to MFS for Tom’s TESA surgical sperm extraction. Under sedation and with pain relief, Dr Lockwood made a multi-point needle biopsy in his testes to extract sperm-containing fluid. Then MFS laboratory director Su Barlow used a microscope to search for sperm good enough to use in ICSI and then froze them in liquid nitrogen at -196°C, until the day of Li’s egg collection.
But wedding plans meant that Tom and Li decided to postpone treatment for a couple of months, because Li didn’t want to be taking fertility drugs around the time of the ‘big day’ on 10 April. Preparations were made more stressful as Tom got a chest infection and was admitted to hospital for five days, and was discharged only two days before their wedding.
In May, Li began her daily down-regulation injections, to temporarily shut-down her normal menstrual cycle in preparation for the fertility experts at MFS to carefully control the stimulation of follicles containing eggs. She also continued taking her lupus medication.
Careful scanning at MFS ensured that Li was developing a regular number of follicles and finally, that she would be ready for her egg collection on Friday 26 May.
Tom was still in hospital but was allowed to accompany Li to some of her appointments. “It was a stressful time,” said Li. “I was taking fertility drugs, working full-time, looking after Gawin at home, visiting Tom twice a day and taking him home-cooked Chinese food to help maintain his weight. And all the time, we were being filmed by the BBC! But I managed all my appointments at MFS without having to take any time off work.”
On the day of her egg collection Tom and Li returned to MFS and Li was given sedation and pain relief to prepare her for the procedure. Dr Lockwood emptied nine follicles and passed the eggs to laboratory manager Jo Johnson who checked them under the microscope for mature eggs before being ICSI injected later that day.
The next day Tom and Li phoned the clinic to learn that two of the eggs had successfully fertilised to become embryos and to confirm that they would return for the embryo transfer three days later.
In a 20 minutes procedure, both embryos were transferred into Li’s uterus and they began the long two week wait before they could do a pregnancy test – which was positive! Two weeks later a scan at LFS revealed a single strong heartbeat.
“Tom and Li’s story can reassure many couples who may require help to conceive – even if they think their combined fertility problems give them little chance of conceiving,” said Dr Gillian Lockwood. “Treatment is tailor-made for every couple, to address their specific problems and to try and overcome the reasons for their infertility. We are delighted how their pregnancy is progressing and wish them the very best for the arrival of their baby.”
Tom and Li’s story will be shown in ‘A Child Against All Odds’ at 9.00pm on BBC1 on Tuesday 28 November 2006.
Midland Fertility Services was established in 1987 and is licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. In 2000 MFS became the first UK IVF clinic to use inhibin B to assess ovarian reserve and in 2002 the UK’s first ‘frozen egg’ baby was born following treatment at MFS, using the baby’s mother’s own egg and giving hope to young cancer patients worried about fertility preservation. In 2004, MFS celebrated the birth of the 3,000th baby following treatment at the clinic and in June 2005, registered its 13,000th patient. In September 2005, the UK’s first twins were born from ‘frozen egg’ fertility treatment at MFS. Based in Aldridge and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, MFS treats both private and NHS-funded patients from throughout the UK and abroad.