Organ donation is a beautiful thing – it gives someone a new lease on life. But there are some things that an organ recipient has to deal with. They have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives to reduce the risk of organ rejection. And for women, having a child after a transplant is considered rare and risky. Part of the problem is the rejection drugs themselves – they inhibit a woman’s ability to conceive naturally, and the effects of the drugs on a fetus are unknown.
“There is no record in the world of a transplant patient who has achieved pregnancy through in vitro fertilization,” Gustavo Leguizamon, head of the high risk pregnancy center in Buenos Aires told The Telegraph.
But there’s one now…
Heart transplant recipient Juliana Finondo from Argentina is thought to be the first woman to have ever given birth after a transplant surgery. She had received her heart back in 1999. At that time, doctors told her that she couldn’t ever risk getting pregnant; not only did she have to worry about the common hurdles and complications for all transplant patients, Juliana had some unique issues to deal with, simply because she was a heart transplant patient. Because the body produces 40 percent more blood during pregnancy, she had more risks to be concerned about, for both her and her baby.
“This could lead to not enough blood getting to the uterus, causing the baby to grow less,” and possibly a premature birth, Mr. Leguizamon said.
But even knowing the risks, Juliana couldn’t subdue her desires to become a mother. A decade after her surgery, she decided to try and conceive naturally. Two years passed and she still hadn’t been able to conceive. So she decided to check with her doctor to see if there were any other options.
“I was never afraid,” Juliana told The Telegraph. “Maybe I’m too optimistic.”
Maybe she was, but maybe she wasn’t…
After giving Juliana a full examination, doctors couldn’t find any evidence of rejection so they came up with a plan that would help wean her off the anti-rejection drugs to increase her odds of conceiving. Simultaneously, doctors added in drugs that Juliana needed to undergo IVF. Though Mr. Leguizamon said they would add yet another layer of complication to her already high risk pregnancy, it was the best way to ensure that Juliana would be off her medications for the least amount of time.
Despite everything stacked against her, Juliana became pregnant after her very first round of IVF. And after nine months of close monitoring, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Emilia, on January 15th.
Juliana’s cardiologist, Sergio Perrone, says that this positive outcome shatters the prejudices and limitations placed on transplant patients.
“Today a transplant patient has an excellent quality of life, much better than people realize,” Perrone told The Telegraph.
Perrone says he’s also hopeful that Julianne’s story will encourage more people to become organ donors. In the country of Argentina, 630 donors contributed organs to 1,458 patients in 2012 alone. But government figures indicate that there are still another 7,290 patients waiting on an organ.
“It saves one life, which can be multiplied by so many more,” Perrone said about organ donation. “[Emilia] will become a mother in her time.”
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