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Switched at Conception

'I question everything'

Ripening, retrieving, fertilizing, implanting continued...

The harvested material is then delivered to an embryologist, who isolates the eggs and places them individually into petri dishes. The partner's sperm is combined with the eggs, and if all goes well, fertilized embryos develop.

Should that happen, the progress of the embryos is monitored for three to five days. Then the strongest two to four are transferred into the woman's uterus, where it is hoped they will implant. The rest are frozen for any future attempts. Hormones are given to inhibit menstruation, and a few weeks later, a pregnancy test confirms if the process was successful.

After two attempts that failed to produce any harvestable eggs, Gora's ovaries produced 28 on the third try.

Success rates tell the tale

"You would think that under such controlled conditions, it would work 100% of the time," Luciano says. But the rate of success is somewhere between 25% and 35%. In young women like Gora, the rate may be as high as 50%; in women over 40, it can be as low as 15%. "If a woman does not get pregnant by the third try, there is no reason to believe further attempts will be successful," says Luciano.

Indeed, Gora did not become pregnant, and decided to stop trying. "The doctors told me the success rates, but it didn't sink in," she says.

"People always think they are going to be in that 20-30% that gets a baby, not in the 70-80% group that fails. I would tell people to go in expecting that it won't work, and then if it does, it's a miracle."

Gora became depressed, and her marriage faltered. The stress caused by the invasive and intense treatments, and then by the letdown of her negative pregnancy tests, was more than she or her husband expected, she says, and they divorced. For the next two years, she made payments on the $8,000 credit card debt she had incurred to pay for the procedures. "That was torture. Every month, that bill was a reminder." After the bills were paid, she destroyed every document, check stub, and record that reminded her of the treatment, and tried to put the episode behind her.

Then the egg scandal broke.

The handling of eggs and embryos

In 1994, whistleblowers from the Irvine clinic alerted the university that the clinic's doctors allegedly were underreporting their income, importing fertility drugs not FDA-approved, and transplanting stored eggs into patients without consent from the donors. Gora's mother heard about it and urged her daughter to contact the clinic. "I told her I never wanted to see or talk to any of those people again, but if she wanted to call that would be fine with me," Gora says. So her mother contacted Blum.

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