Woman Born Without Uterus Gives Birth to Healthy Baby Boy After Successful Transplant
Countless lives are impacted by organ and tissue donation every single day. While most people are at least somewhat familiar with major organ transplants and how they save lives, you may not know that organ and tissue transplants can improve lives, too. This was precisely the case of Jennifer Gobrecht and her implanted uterus, which led to the third ever birth of a child via a transplanted uterus.
Meet The Gobrecht Family
An estimated one in every 500 childbearing women across the globe is affected by uterine factor infertility, meaning some womb abnormality hinders her chance of conception.
At 17 years old, Jennifer Gobrecht still hadn’t experienced her first menstrual cycle. She was diagnosed with a rare condition called MRKH, or Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. In a nutshell, Jennifer was born without a key reproductive organ - a uterus. Without a womb to carry a child, Jennifer was told she’d never experience pregnancy and childbirth via her own body.
Yet, she held a firm belief that she’d be a mother someday. She just wasn’t sure how. While Jennifer never let her condition define who she was, she felt it was important to be transparent with her friends about having MRKH and the impact it held on her life.
Her husband, Drew, entered her life as a friend and evolved into her boyfriend. Even with the knowledge of her MRKH, she and Drew knew they wanted a family. They envisioned standard paths, such as surrogacy or adoption, for couples unable to conceive on their own. They had no idea their aspirations for a family would soon become world medical news.
Ongoing research on uterine factor infertility has unveiled several new experimental treatment options, including uterine transplants. Jennifer kept active in the online uterine factor infertility community, and she had heard of women with uterine transplants being able to conceive and go through normal childbirth. She saw a Penn Medicine trial involving uterine transplantation on her Facebook group page and considered applying. She discussed the idea with her husband, reported CNN.
Drew was more skeptical. He thought about all the potential risks for Jennifer and that there’d be a good chance of taking those risks and still not having a child. He wanted to ensure the risk to reward ratio was worth it, but he was ultimately supportive given Jennifer’s excitement over the possibilities.
What really got Drew onboard was Jennifer saying that she didn’t just want to do the trial for her, him, them, or even a baby. For Jennifer, being able to use the new science to potentially help others struggling with infertility was a key objective.
With Drew’s support, Jennifer applied to the Penn Medicine uterus transplant treatment trial and was selected as the first participant. Now, they’d wait for a uterus from a deceased donor. The Gift of Life Donor Program coordinated Jennifer’s organ donation.
When a suitable donor was found and transplant day arrived, it took 10 hours to place the uterus in her pelvis and connect all the donor organ blood vessels one-by-one to Jennifer’s own blood vessels. If successful, Jennifer would menstruate for the first time and possibly be able to carry a child.
According to Dr. Paige Porrett, the assistant professor of transplant surgery at Penn Medicine who oversaw the transplantation, like other transplanted organs, uterine transplants require the recipient to take medications to reduce the risk of organ rejection. Uterine transplants are a little different, however, in that the organ is for ‘temporary use.’ The uterus is removed after a completed pregnancy and childbirth. The recipient can then stop the medications.
Just six months after getting her donor uterus, Jennifer had an embryo composed of her egg and Drew’s sperm transferred to her uterus. Ten long days later, she received blood test results confirming she was pregnant, CNN continues.
Assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Dr. Katherine O’Neill delivered the happy news to the Philadelphia couple. Jennifer says it was one of the best moments of their lives and the end of their journey to starting a family. Drew describes the process as surreal; up until the pregnancy confirmation, he still thought of the trial as more of an option for future generations of infertile couples, not necessarily something that would make him and Jennifer parents.
The family of Jennifer’s uterine donor spoke out via a press release from Penn Medicine. While this mother wished to remain anonymous, she described her deceased daughter as the best mom she’d ever met and prioritized motherhood. She expressed her pride in being part of supporting transplantation and Jennifer’s journey. It’s her hope that such trials will enable more women to experience childbirth and its joys and this trial will be a lasting, fitting legacy for her own deceased daughter’s life.
At age 33, Jennifer underwent a cesarean section to give birth to Benjamin Thomas Gobrecht as part of an ongoing uterine transplantation infertility treatment trial. He became the second baby in the United States born following a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor. Jennifer says she hopes his existence is an inspiration to others.
The first baby, a girl born in 2017, to be birthed following a uterus transplant from a deceased donor took place in Brazil. The birth was via cesarean section. Heretofore, the only infertility treatment of this sort had involved transplants from living donors. Later that year, the first US baby to be birthed after a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor took place at the Cleveland Clinic. The baby was a girl, and she, too, was born via cesarean section. Benjamin took his place as the third.
The future for uterine transplantation is uncertain. It’s experimental and, at an estimated cost of anywhere from $65k to $250k, it’s not covered by insurance. More research would help sort out this wide scope of cost and better map out the biological questions and intricacies of uterine organ transplants and the female reproductive system.
Today, research continues to pave a path for uterus transplantation as a potentially viable fertility treatment option for the masses.
O’Neill points out that the Penn Medicine trial, which has five planned uterine transplants in total, isn’t just about women born without a uterus. Many of the trial’s participants have uterine factor infertility after having their uterus removed for various reasons like fibroids, previous childbirth trauma, and so forth. Even women with nonfunctional uteri can be candidates for this fertility treatment option, and O’Neill says that future research could even uncover non-reproductive benefits in uterine transplants.
So far, around 70 women across the globe have had documented uterine transplants. The numbers may seem underwhelming and there’s risk involved, but the trial’s researchers feel it’s enough to establish uterus transplants as safe, CNN concludes.
Isn’t it amazing what science can do? Do you have fertility issues? Would you consider organ transplant as a treatment? We’d love to hear your thoughts, stories, and questions, and don’t forget to pass this research along to others.