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
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,"
"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.