In October 2019, as RMA was celebrating 20 years of building families, one of its early patients, Leanne Levy, called RMA’s Basking Ridge fertility practice out of the blue.
This time, however, Leanne was not looking to get pregnant. Instead, as a new empty-nester, she was calling to see if she could offer support or inspiration to RMA patients currently going through treatment. Still a blissfully happy mom, she wanted to pay it forward and share what she learned all those years ago.
“I like to control things and infertility feels like something you can’t control,” Leanne explained. “But I have a happy story and I want to share it.”
In a nutshell, her message to hopeful parents is: “Never give up.”
During treatment, those three words took Leanne over some tough hurdles as she pursued her dream of starting a family.
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One of the First RMA Patients
After two failed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments at another fertility clinic and trying naturally for a year before that, Leanne’s OB/GYN suggested she call RMA.
“There was all this buzz about these three doctors leaving St. Barnabas to start their own fertility clinic and research center,” said Leanne, who was living in Whippany, NJ, at the time with her husband, Bill. “During my first appointment at RMA, I could tell something was different with these doctors and the clinic, and it was refreshing.”
It was early 2000, and RMA founding partners Dr. Paul Bergh, Dr. Richard Scott and Dr. Michael Drews were in the first 12 months of seeing patients at their new practice in Morristown. At the time, the doctors worked as a team seeing patients, but Leanne recalls seeing Dr. Drews first.
“He was honest about my age being a possible issue and that there were no guarantees, but I also remember him giving me hope. I turned to Bill and said ‘I feel like this is going to work.’”
At the time, Leanne was 37 years old and Bill was 33.
“We married later so we started trying to conceive later,” she recalled. “In the end, I just had old eggs.”
By “old,” Leanne meant her eggs may not have been as viable as younger eggs, so the chances of getting pregnant and having an ongoing, healthy pregnancy were lower. And as it turned out, Leanne’s first IVF treatment with RMA, in March of 2000, was not successful. While she and Bill were discouraged, she was determined to try again.
Not Giving Up
In early August of 2000, Leanne was ready to go back to RMA and try again. She was feeling more relaxed and her RMA doctors – who were continuing to innovate and conduct research, just like they do today – recommended a different approach.
Leanne’s second retrieval produced 12 eggs, eight of which were mature. Following fertilization with Bill’s sperm, the eggs became embryos, and RMA doctors recommended growing them until they reached the blastocyst stage of development, which usually happens on day 5. Why? Embryos that reach this stage are more likely to implant inside the uterus and lead to a healthy pregnancy. After five days of observation, the doctors were able to see which of Leanne’s blastocysts looked most likely to implant.
It is worth noting that blastocyst culture and transfer was uncommon in August 2000. There were very few fertility clinics doing it at the time. Most were still transferring Day 3 embryos, in greater numbers. RMA’s Day 5 protocol at the time was advanced – and one more example of how RMA was leading the way early on.
A Forever Birthday Gift
When Leanne went back for her transfer, it felt like her last chance. Dr. Drews transferred three of Leanne’s healthiest embryos and, from that point on, everyone crossed their fingers – and toes.
Then, on August 30, Leanne’s 38th birthday, the call came in. But this time, she asked Bill to intercept it. “Having Bill tell me I was pregnant was the best birthday gift ever!” she recalled.
They later learned they were having twins, and in April of 2001, Brett and Ryan were born.
“I was so happy,” gushed Leanne, still overjoyed all these years later. “All of a sudden I had the family I’d always wanted.”
RMA’s Ever-Improving Standard of Care
Much has changed over the last 20 years as RMA continues to lead the way with cutting-edge science and research. The biggest difference? Twins are a rare outcome at RMA since the standard of care is now Single Embryro Transfer (SET) and Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET).
SET dramatically reduces the risk of multiples (twins or triplets), which can compromise the health of both mothers and babies, and FET allows doctors to schedule the transfer at a time when the uterus is in its most optimal state to receive the embryo. FET also allows time for the embryo to be screened for abnormalities if necessary.
Using NexCCS, an advanced genetic screening platform developed by RMA, doctors can identify abnormalities and choose the healthiest embryo for implantation. Since abnormalities in embryos are a major contributor to miscarriages, choosing a chromosomally normal embryo leads to higher success rates.
More New Beginnings
Now, eighteen full and happy years later, Leanne and Bill recently saw their boys off to college. That change has Leanne eyeing up new beginnings of her own, which is what prompted her call to RMA back in October. Even today, she can barely contain her gratitude and enthusiasm as she talks about how much she loves being a mom.
Leanne expressed how glad she was that she did not give up, how grateful she remains to her RMA care team, and how much she wants to support people who are going through treatment.
“I am so passionate about RMA,” said Leanne. “I love those doctors! They gave me my family!”