It was February 2016, when 26-year-old Lindsey McFarland, who was born without a uterus caused by MRKH, was wheeled into the operating room for a 9-hour surgery.
Lindsey says, “I got the call at 7 a.m. and they said, hey you’re listed, be on standby, and at 2 p.m. that afternoon we were on a flight to Cleveland.”
The uterine transplant at Cleveland Clinic was the first such clinical trial by a US Medical Center. But complications would eventually lead to the transplant being removed.
“I realized I had been bleeding out. I wasn’t really concerned at first because we thought maybe they nicked something so we were just going to go in and fix that, and that’s when they discovered I had an infection that cut off the blood flow,” Lindsey said.
She wasn’t even aware they took out the uterus until after she woke up.
“I think it made it more difficult having the press conference that day, saying we have a good healthy uterus and we’re on this track to do this, and that night were turning around and taking it out," her husband Blake said.
Lindsey and Blake opened up about their experience last month at a medical discussion put on by the Cade Foundation, a local organization providing support and financial assistance to infertile families, and the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine.
The session, which was closed to media, brought in doctors from around the area, including Dr. Howard McClamrock, Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. He says, this procedure is considered controversial.
“It's controversial because there are other alternatives, gestational carriers and adoption. It’s also controversial because it’s risky to all parties involved. The woman who gets the transplant, the donor if it’s a living donor, and potentially the child,” Dr. McClamrock said.
Dr. Robert Stillman, Director Emeritus, at Shady Grove Fertility, calls it a very challenging surgery as well.
“This is extensive surgery and has been claimed by the best people in the world including the Swedish team to be the most difficult transplantation they’ve ever done and they’re the best," he said.
There is no timeline for when the procedure could be main-stream, if ever. But Dr. Stillman says there are other advances in the field.
“I think one of the most exciting things is twofold. One is the genetic evaluations that are increasing to minimize children with genetic disorders going forward. You can screen sometimes the parents, sometimes the embryos. The other is egg freezing, elective egg freezing. For instance they could freeze their eggs or if they have a partner, freeze their embryo’s, and then used those younger aged derived embryos, at a later time,” Dr. Stillman said.
As for Lindsey, while she still has dreams of carrying a child, she has been removed from the donor list.
“The protocol stands, with all the complications I’ve had, I’m no longer a candidate,” she said.
Despite Lindsey and Blake not being able to conceive naturally. The two continue to grow their family in Texas. They have three adopted sons and are currently fostering a one month old baby boy.