Long-term struggle overcome with donated sperm

Donating sperm really does change lives; there are few other things that you could do for someone else that would have such a positive impact.

One couple that will always be grateful to an anonymous donor are Ria and Lee from Suffolk, it took them ten years and two miscarriages to finally achieve their ‘happy bubbly baby.’

donated sperm

The couple married in 2001 and Ria then 21 came off the pill to start a family.

Ria (now 34) begins: “However time ticked on – I returned to university, our careers developed – and on turning 30, I realised we needed to do something.”

Investigations revealed a low sperm count

The couple went to their GP who referred them for tests at the local hospital.  When investigations revealed that Lee had a low sperm count, it was suggested that they had IVF treatment and from the list of fertility centres offered they picked Bourn Hall Clinic.

Ria says: “We chose the Cambridge clinic as set in a wonderful open space, the home to the first IVF baby – Louise Brown – and because I didn’t like the idea of being probed in a London clinic and then having to sit on a train home to Suffolk.”

Surgical sperm retrieval recommended

After the initial consultation in September 2012 it was suggested that an attempt was made to retrieve sperm directly from the testicles using a minor surgical procedure called surgical sperm retrieval (SSR).

Although the couple were told that there was a slim chance of it being successful they thought it was worth the chance.

Ria says: “We went in with our eyes wide open and we had wanted to try to see if we could have a baby that was genetically ours before considering other options. It was very disappointing when they couldn’t find any sperm.”

Using a sperm donor

The next option was to use donated sperm. Bourn Hall was the first clinic to freeze sperm and also the first to start a sperm bank.

Each donor prepares a short anonymous pen picture of himself and this is given to the couple, along with details of the donor’s build and colouring to help them to select a good match.

Several vials of sperm from the same donor are reserved for the couple so they can have a number of IVF cycles and also to use the sperm for siblings if required.

April was a tough month

In February 2013 Ria began a course of injections to increase her ovulation in preparation for the couple’s first NHS-funded IVF treatment.

“April was a tough month,” recalls Ria. “My Mum suddenly died two days before I was due to have my egg collection and then after becoming pregnant I later miscarried.”

Having decided they wanted to try again, the couple returned in mid-October for a second cycle of IVF treatment, again using the frozen donor sperm.

Although an initial home test revealed Ria was pregnant, unfortunately her seven-week scan showed heartbreakingly there was no baby.

The couple decided to wait until after Christmas to try one last time.

Baby Jacob arrives

donated sperm

For their third and final NHS-funded cycle it was decided to change Ria’s drug regime and also to continue with medication through the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy to improve the blood flow to the womb.

“When I was told at the first scan that I had a ‘healthy pregnancy’, it was such a relief that I cried but I was also concerned in case I lost the baby again. I felt like I was on a knife’s edge during those first few scans,” says Ria.

“The Bourn Hall staff were very supportive and easy to talk to and when I saw our little baby’s heart beating at the 12 week scan it was such a good feeling!”

The rest of Ria’s pregnancy went smoothly and on 11th December 2014 baby Jacob was born.

Ria reflects: “It took us a lot longer to get where we are, with our happy bubbly baby, but once referred to Bourn Hall Clinic the process was surprisingly quick.

“We now couldn’t imagine life without Jacob.  Lee phones me every day from work to check how his son is doing – it was well worth going through all the ‘hoops’ to get him.”

For more information about male infertility treatments.

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NHS funding gave Kelly and Andy a baby miracle

With baby Grace playing in the background Kelly (43) recalls how her own and her husband’s, Andy (46), fertility problems were not going to stop them from becoming a family.

“In 1990, we met at a carnival in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and were married a year later. We started trying for a family soon after. To begin with we weren’t too worried about time but as the years passed we began to panic. Our initial hope of me easily becoming pregnant was soon seen as a dream and so we went to a clinic in Ipswich for investigation.

“We had endless tests and investigations and I was given the fertility drug Clomid to help improve my chances of conceiving but it didn’t work.”

ICSI treatment recommended

The tests revealed that as well as Kelly having (PCOS), a condition that affects the way the ovaries work, Andy had a medical condition which affected his ability to produce a sperm sample, and this would require surgical sperm retrieval.

“Eventually we were told in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) was our only option if we wanted a baby.”

ICSI involves carefully injecting a single sperm directly into an egg in order to fertilise it. The fertilised embryo is then transferred to the woman’s womb.

Entitled to one cycle of IVF on NHS

In 2007, and living in Suffolk, the couple were entitled to one cycle of IVF on the NHS.

Following successful surgical sperm retrieval Andy’s sperm was frozen and put into storage until needed.

In January 2008, Kelly had her eggs collected. A total of seven were collected and four eggs were suitable for ICSI.

Kelly continues: “Devastatingly none of eggs fertilised. As it was our only NHS funded IVF cycle we thought our chance had passed; never again would we be able to try for a child as we simply couldn’t afford the treatment ourselves.

A gift from Andy’s parents

“Andy’s parents amazingly surprised us and generously offered to help fund our second IVF cycle. We were so grateful and with renewed hope we returned to Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge but this time as private patients.”

The couple started their second cycle of IVF in September 2008, but unfortunately it was not to be and the pregnancy test was negative.

“Again our hopes were dashed and we started to wonder if it would just be the pair of us forever. Then my Dad heard that the NHS funding criteria was changing and that we might be eligible for further fertility treatment.

“I was worried we might not meet the requirements as we’d already had one NHS funded treatment as well as a privately funded one but that didn’t stop us from trying.

Dad’s determination pays off

“My Dad was fantastic; making initial phone calls of enquiry and then helping with the follow up paperwork and letter writing. Ultimately due to his hard work we were entitled to two more NHS funded cycles of IVF. This news was a big weight off our shoulders and gave us the chance of becoming parents.”

The couple started their next cycle of treatment in April 2010.

“Tragically another negative pregnancy test: we were heart-broken yet again but luckily we did have one more fresh cycle available to us. This was to be our final attempt so we were incredibly nervous.”

The final attempt

In late September 2010, three eggs were collected from Kelly and using frozen sperm retrieved from Andy, two embryos developed. At blastocyst stage, they were then carefully transferred into Kelly’s womb.

“I was due to take the pregnancy test on my Mum’s birthday, the 16th October, but I was too nervous, so I naughtily took it two days early. I didn’t want to spoil my Mum’s birthday if it was another negative, but, amazingly we got our first ever positive pregnancy test! It was the best news ever; I screamed with excitement yet knew we still had a long way to go until we held him or her in our arms.”

At the 20 week scan the couple discovered that they were having a girl.

“We knew this was going to be our one and only child so we wanted to be able to buy the appropriate colour clothes and nursery stuff, which is why we chose to find out the sex.”

The couple welcomes Grace

On 22nd June 2011 baby Grace was born weighing 8 lb 3 oz.

“We thought long and hard about what we would call our miracle. We named her ‘Grace’ after the fertility goddess and for gracing us with her presence and ‘Hope’ because we never gave up!

“She completes the world for us and is everything we ever wanted. It showed us that miracles can happen.

“We know we were lucky to get further NHS funding. It made all the difference to us being able to have a family and we are eternally grateful to everyone at Bourn Hall who helped make our dreams come true.”

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New procedure overcomes infertility caused by cystic fibrosis

“It’s a Celfie”, says Rachel showing a picture of her baby’s first picture. For her and her husband Tom, their lives would be very different now had it not been for the NHS funded IVF treatment they received at Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester.

Rachel starts: “We wanted to try for a baby as soon as we got married, which was in 2010. After 18 months of trying nothing had happened so I thought we should go to our GP and get the ball rolling.”

Cystic fibrosis causes male infertility 

The couple had to have blood tests and Tom provided a sample for a semen analysis. This revealed that he had a sperm count of zero. Further tests at the Broomfield Hospital and the UCLH showed that Tom was a carrier of cystic fibrosis and didn’t have any vas deferens.

Around one in 25 white Europeans in the UK is a carrier of the cystic fibrosis gene. Carriers of the gene can have problems with their fertility. Some men are born without vas deferens – the tubes that transport sperm from the testicles to the penis. Without these tubes, sperm cannot mix with the seminal fluid and so there is no sperm present in the ejaculate.

Rachel continues “knowing the cause of our infertility was a like a big relief. It was good to know what was stopping us from conceiving, that there was something that could be done for us and we could put a plan of action in place.”

Testicular sperm aspiration brings hope

After further testing Rachel and Tom were sent back to their GP. They were referred for NHS funded IVF treatment which they chose to have at the Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester.

“I was apprehensive before our first visit to Bourn Hall Clinic, but as soon as we were there, I was put at ease” adds Tom.

Rachel continues: “In March 2013 we started treatment at Bourn Hall. We met with our consultant urologist at the Colchester clinic. They decided Tom would need a treatment called TESA to find sperm.”

Testicular sperm aspiration (TESA) occurs when a fine needle is inserted into the testis and samples of tissue containing sperm are obtained through gentle suction. For Tom, the procedure was a success and produced two vials of high quality sperm which were frozen for use in future IVF treatment cycles.

Later that month Rachel began her treatment at Bourn Hall. She had blood tests and ultrasounds, and was shown how to inject herself with the fertility drugs.

Rachel returned to the clinic in May 2013 for her egg collection and produced 16 eggs, nine of which were successfully fertilised using Tom’s sperm. Five of the embryos developed to 5-day Blastocysts. Four embryos were frozen for use in future cycles and one was transferred to Rachel’s womb.

cystic fibrosis

“It was such a surprise!”

From then Rachel and Tom had a nervous two week wait before they could take a pregnancy test to find out if their treatment had been a success.

“I couldn’t bear to wait the two weeks before taking the test. I did it a bit earlier” reveals Rachel.

“We went through treatment thinking the first cycle would just be a trial go and to treat it like a learning experience. I had convinced myself it wouldn’t work so when I looked at the test and saw it was positive I couldn’t believe it! It was such a surprise!”

Looking back on their treatment, Rachel feels that for them being open helped a lot.

“Both of us were honest with our friends and family from the beginning. I think we felt much more comfortable with everyone knowing. It meant we had a whole support group to confide in and help us through it.”

Delighted that they had been successful on their first round of IVF treatment, Rachel and Tom looked forward to the arrival of baby. Amalie was born on the 27th March 2014.

cystic fibrosis

Beating the odds

Tom says “the staff were always honest with us about our chances of success. I’m just so pleased we beat the odds!”

“You can’t prepare for it” says Rachel on what it feels like to be a mum. “One day you just come home with another person! It hasn’t been chaotic yet; just everything takes so much longer than you think!

“We are both so grateful to have been able to have our treatment on the NHS: it meant everything to us. Without it we wouldn’t of had a chance and we’d never of had Amalie. We are so thankful to them and Bourn Hall for their help in giving us the family we’d always wanted.”

More information 

Fertility testing provides information about sperm quality.

Bourn Hall has consultants with specialist knowledge of male infertility. 

To find out more come to one of our Fertility Awareness events. 

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has advice about the condition

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Cancer survivor now father thanks to TESE procedure

When Kevin from Cambridgeshire hugs his two young children, he feels as though he has a multitude of reasons to count his blessings.

A childhood cancer survivor, Kevin was told as a teenager that he would never be able to father children of his own but thanks to pioneering treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic he has gone on to become a dad – not once but twice. He also recently conquered cancer for a second time and is looking to the future with a renewed sense of optimism.

“Being a Dad is something I thought would never happen and now I have two beautiful children,” says Kevin, aged 40, as he plays with two-year-old Arthur and cradles latest arrival, nine-month-old Evelyn. “I have also just been given the all-clear from cancer, having had a second shock diagnosis last year, so I feel ‘extra double’ lucky!”

Childhood cancer

Kevin was four when he was diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system. He battled the disease for two years and had chemotherapy, which can cause a man to become infertile.

Kevin had always accepted that he wouldn’t be able to father a child until he met his future wife Natalie, a midwife.  She remembers:  “I had to think hard about whether we had a future together if we couldn’t have a family.  Being a midwife, surrounded by pregnant women and babies, it could become difficult to cope with.  I loved Kevin and wanted to be with him, so we chose to cross any difficult bridges when we came to them.”

TESE procedure enabled IVF

When a sperm analysis showed a zero sperm count, Kevin and wife Natalie were referred to Bourn Hall Clinic in 2011. They saw the clinic’s male fertility specialist Dr Oliver Wiseman who encouraged them to try a procedure called TESE  – which would involve retrieving viable sperm from tissue extracted from Kevin’s testes. The couple agreed and the procedure was successful, enabling Natalie to undergo IVF treatment using Kevin’s sperm. Arthur was born in 2013 and a further embryo was frozen.

For the couple baby Arthur was a miracle and although they held little hope that this would be repeated, they both felt they needed to try again with the single frozen embryo.

Natalie says: “Despite the chances of success being slimmer with literally just one frozen embryo for treatment, we decided to go ahead. I didn’t build my hopes up too much but Kevin and my mum were absolutely convinced it was going to work.

“My treatment second time around was much less stressful as I didn’t have to have the hormone injections to stimulate my egg production. Three days after treatment we moved house and so I managed to keep my mind busy on other things and tried not to think about the pregnancy test. I was amazed when it came back positive. In fact I re-took the test ten more times just to double-check! We were absolutely over the moon!”


Another battle with cancer

Unfortunately their elation was to be short-lived. Kevin became unwell. Initially thinking he had food poisoning he got more and more ill over a six-week period until he couldn’t keep any food or drink down and lost two stone in the process.

After being admitted to hospital and undergoing tests Kevin was stunned to be given the news that 35 years after his first diagnosis he once again had cancer.

“I was absolutely shocked and devastated that this had happened right in the middle of something which should have been so amazing,” he says.  “My primary concern was for Natalie, our unborn child and Arthur. I kept asking myself whether I was going to see my children grow up”.

Kevin underwent a 10-hour operation to remove parts of his pancreas, bowel and stomach, which was then followed by six months of chemotherapy. Throughout this period, Natalie had to remain strong for everyone.

“When Kevin came home after his operation, Arthur and I were so pleased to see him and it felt as though things might get back to normal,” says Natalie. “Then one Friday I went off into Ely to have a beauty treatment, got back that evening and settled down on the sofa with Kevin to watch England play in the Rugby World Cup. We were half-way through the National Anthem when my waters broke, I was only 28 weeks pregnant!”

Premature labour

A neighbour was drafted in to look after Arthur whilst Natalie and Kevin rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where Natalie works. She then proceeded to go in to premature labour.

The couple are convinced that the stress of the previous few months played a part in the turn of events and so having thought they would be having a Christmas baby welcomed daughter Evelyn in to the world much earlier than planned on 29 September 2015.

“Working at Addenbrooke’s I knew that I was in the best possible place to have a premature baby,” says Natalie. “I didn’t doubt for one minute that she would be okay but I was frightened at how tiny she was. She came out with a full head of hair and screamed and screamed, she made far more noise than Arthur ever made! We fell in love with her straight away.”


Natalie was sent home after a few days but Evelyn stayed in Addenbrooke’s until the middle of November and so Natalie spent vast amounts of her time at the hospital either with Kevin whilst he underwent chemotherapy or visiting Evelyn.

Although Evelyn was allowed home for Christmas, with Kevin’s cancer still hanging over them, it was a muted affair. “Arthur had presents but he was the only one who did and we just about managed to get a Christmas tree up,” says Natalie. “We just wanted to get to the end of the year and see the back of it.”

Looking to the future with optimism

2016 was shaping up to be a good year with Kevin being given the all clear from his cancer in March.

“I am now just looking forward to what lies ahead, seeing the children grow up and watching how they turn out and hopefully having a healthy, happy future for myself,” he says. “I am just so grateful that I am still here and that I have got a complete family with two beautiful children who I once thought I would never have. I am just so lucky to have them both and to have my health back.”

Natalie is also looking to the future with optimism:

“I am going back to work and trying to get back to normal,” she says. “We are trying to put everything behind us and move forward and enjoy our children that we have thanks to Bourn Hall.

“We are so grateful to Oliver Wiseman at Bourn Hall for his efforts at the very beginning andlooking at whether Kevin would be able to father his own children. We are a complete family now and I would say to anyone that even if the odds are stacked against you, if you want something, keep going forward and fight for it and hopefully you will achieve your dreams.”