Brace yourselves, folks… the future is upon us. There is now such a thing as uterus transplants, and may I just say, what a time to be alive.
Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You’ve heard of bone marrow, tissue, blood, and kidney donors. Now, behold: women may be able to donate their uteruses. (How cool is medicine?)
This type of transplant has been done in the past using cadaver uteruses, but now medical professionals are using uteruses from live donors to test their theories. In December of 2017, America welcomed the first baby born from a mother who has lived most of her life since birth without a uterus at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
The new mother and her husband wished to remain anonymous, but OBGYN and uterus transplant surgeon Dr. Liza Johannesson told the New York Times, “I’ve seen so many births and delivered so many babies, but this was a very special one.”
The birth was a scheduled Cesarean section, and most members of the multidisciplinary clinical trial team were in the room when it happened. The baby was delivered screaming and healthy, and Dr. Robert T. Gunby Jr., the obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered that day told TIME Magazine, “I’ve delivered a lot of babies, but this one was special. When I started my career we didn’t even have sonograms. Now we are putting in uteruses from someone else and getting a baby.”
As for the donated uterus, we have 36-year-old Taylor Siler, mother of two and a registered nurse, to thank for that.
After extensive screening of both her physical and mental health, Siler was approved for Baylor’s uterus transplant clinical trial. According to Baylor, it takes roughly five hours for surgeons to harvest a uterus and another five hours for them to transplant it into the recipient.
Though Siler never met the recipient she donated to, she says that they exchanged notes to each other on the day of surgery. And later on, Siler received another letter from the recipient telling her that the transplant was successful and she was finally pregnant.
“I’ve just been crying and getting teary thinking about it, “ Siler told TIME. “I think about her every day and I probably will for the rest of my life.”
This landmark birth was the first one to take place in Baylor’s ongoing uterus transplant clinical trial. And in Sweden, the first country to ever perform a uterus transplant, they have already seen nine successful uterus transplants. Five of which have already resulted in pregnancies and successful deliveries as well. Women participating in the trials have what’s called absolute uterine factor infertility (AUI). Meaning, their uterus is nonfunctioning or nonexistent. Most women in the trial have grieved the hope of ever becoming pregnant or giving birth to a baby. As for mothers with medical issues, such as certain cancers, this procedure may work for them as well.
This medical advancement is all about “adding hope,” Dr. Colin Koon, a physician with Baylor University, told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s about offering an alternative to have children for women who thought they would never be able to have children.”
It’s estimated that 3-5% of child-bearing-aged women worldwide are infertile because of a damaged, removed, or non-existent uterus. In the United States alone, there are roughly 50,000 women for whom this applies.
Uterus transplants are giving hopeful women the chance to be a mother, but that doesn’t mean the criteria for this surgery is easy. In fact, it’s rather extensive and specific. For example, in the Baylor program, the recipient must be between 20 and 35 years old with working ovaries. The recipient must be cancer-free for at least five years, no history of diabetes, a non-smoker, and negative for HIV, herpes, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
As for the donor, she must be between 30 to 50 years old, cancer-free for a minimum of five years, clear of any STDs, and had at least one full-term delivery.
All of the women receiving a uterus transplant will need to freeze their eggs prior to the operation. They will then need to wait a year after the operation to begin trying via IVF. Fertilized eggs will be implanted one at a time until pregnancy occurs. And to prevent added stress to the transplanted uterus, all recipients must have Cesarean deliveries.
As with any type of organ transplant, recipients face the risk of infection, bleeding, and rejection. To combat this, the women are given anti-rejection meds as long as the uterus is inside of them. And after they are finished having children, the transplanted uterus will then need to be surgically removed.
With uterus transplants becoming a new and exciting medical advancement, it’s crucial to note that this type of a procedure does raise some ethical concerns. Although organ selling is illegal in the United States, some countries will allow a price to be set on organs, such as kidneys. There is also a concern about the medical risks of what some consider an elective surgery.
When a woman has been robbed of the birthing experience she desires so desperately, it’s not unfair or unreasonable for her to fight like hell for that opportunity to present itself once more if possible. And as science is proving, in some cases, uterus transplants are able to do just that.