Beating the odds: surviving cancer to become a two-time mom



The story of Stinne Holm Bergholdt is living proof as to what medical advancement can do to improve people’s lives in more ways than one. Six years ago, the 27-year old Danish woman was fighting for her life when she was diagnosed with bone cancer. Although, the fighting chance for cancer victims are better than ever nowadays due to better treatment options, survival sometimes come with a high price – loss of the potential to reproduce as chemo- or radiation therapy can cause irreparable damage to the human reproductive system.

The day before Bergholdt started chemotherapy, her doctors removed 13 strips of ovarian tissue from her right ovary and cryopreserved them. She then underwent 8 months of cancer treatment which proved effective. After a year of recovery, the doctors reimplanted seven strips of the frozen ovary tissue, which was equivalent to 20% of an entire ovary. The reimplanatation was successful and the reimplanted ovary could produce eggs that were then used for in vitro fertilization (IVF). The IVF resulted in a baby girl named Aviaja, now aged 3 years old. About a year later after Aviaja’s birth, Bergholdt and her husband decided to have a second child and went back to the fertility clinic. However, tests showed that another IVF cycle is not necessary because Bergholdt was already pregnant – the natural way! She is now the proud mom of a second daughter name Lucca, now aged 1 year old.

It’s hard to believe it’s really true.It’s like a dream that I never would have thought possible a few years ago.”,  said the two-time mother of Odense, Denmark.

Bergholdt’s case is proof that preserving cancer patients’ fertility is possible. Even her doctors were happily surprised. According to Dr. Claus Yding Andersen, one of Bergholdt’s doctors at University Hospital of Copenhagen:

We were really surprised that she had done it herself. We did not expect the ovary transplant to still be working after four years.”

In fact, Bergholdt’s ovary is working so well that she has now to practice control to avoid becoming pregnant again. So far, only 8 children have been born through ovary transplants, mostly in cancer patients and Bergholdt is the first woman to successful reproduce twice after the procedure, one through natural conception. She and her daughters made medical history, as published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Yet, the technique may have some far-reaching consequences, e.g. stopping the clock for women who want to delay having children by freezing their ovarian tissue. However, such a procedure would face ethical issues because of its invasiveness.

According to Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield:

To suggest that a healthy woman would have two operations (to remove and reimplant the ovary) for the sake of social convenience, to have children later, is ludicrous. It’s far easier to just freeze your eggs.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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