Part 5. Reproductive immunology, Chicago tests and NK cells…

By this point, we had been trying to conceive for 5 years, had had 3 fresh rounds of IVF, 2 Frozen Embryo Transfers, and 2 miscarriages. We were almost done with the whole fertility saga, and having Liam in our lives was making the decision to stop trying so much easier. However, we felt that we owed it to ourselves to seek out a new clinic, to try one last round with a new protocol and immune treatment. We felt that we just about had one more round in us, but that was it. If it failed, we’d move on and we knew that that was going to be ok. We would create new hopes and dreams for our life together, we would travel more, and enjoy life as a couple rather than a family of four like we had once dreamed. To be honest, I would have been able to call it a day there and then. I was happy to move on at this point, and needed to, but I was scared that I would reach the age of 50 and regret the decision, because I knew that there was one last thing that we could try. So the hunt for a new clinic was on….

From around November 2014 to September 2015, I was frequently visiting a reflexologist who specialised in fertility. Her name was Barbara. I found the treatment to be extremely relaxing and beneficial, but thanks to her incredible knowledge and experience in all things IVF, I found myself opening up to her in ways that I never expected. This was around the time when I was still struggling to come to terms with the second miscarriage, so I needed an avenue to vent my pain and feelings, and Barbara became it. We talked about everything and she helped me to navigate my way through the confusing thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing. She also told me about some studies that she was aware of, and some potential tests that we could undertake, like the sperm DNA fragmentation test, to try and understand why we were having recurrent implantation failure and miscarriages.

I was also reading the book by Dr Alan Beer ‘Is your Body Baby Friendly’ at the time. His words made so much sense to me as I have an auto immune condition, as do most of my family members. We, as an extended family, have huge immune issues, ranging from Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Crohn’s Disease, Migraines, Fibromyalgia, Lupus and a terrifying episode of Hodgkins Lymphoma with my Grandfather just before our wedding. Barbara was also aware of Dr Beer and suggested that we may want to find a clinic to undertake the ‘Chicago tests’. She knew of other couples who had had success at Care Fertility in Nottingham, so we decided to book the tests with them, and a consultation with one of the Dr’s. However, there was one little problem – Nottingham was 184 miles away from our house, but we thought screw it, and went anyway. Jeepers, the things we do to have a baby, huh??!!

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Information taken from the Zita West website states that “The late American physician Dr Alan Beer is at the heart of the work surrounding the idea that a woman’s own immune system might be responsible for repeated miscarriages. In layman’s terms, he argued that natural killer cells, or NK cells, which usually destroy cancer cells and viruses, could get out of control and target the pregnancy.

Research has suggested that during a normal pregnancy, a unique type of immunity occurs that stops a woman rejecting an embryo and aids the growth and development of the foetus. If this immunity does not exist embryos may not implant, early pregnancies may miscarry or later complications may occur for the mother or baby. Special tests may identify couples that are at risk of these problems. Treatment that stimulates the proper immune response (immuno-modulation) in the mother may then improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.”

For more information on reproductive immunology, please follow the link below…

http://www.zitawest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Reproductive-Immunology.pdf

So, in April 2015 we booked a hotel and went to Care Fertility in Nottingham. I planned on having the full Chicago tests and Lyn a sperm DNA Fragmentation test, as well as a joint consultation with one of the Dr’s. I was very impressed with them and the clinic was lovely, the Dr gave us some good advice, but one of the things that stuck out the most was her insistence that Royal Jelly can actually cause poor quality in eggs during an IVF cycle. By all accounts, the stuff is great when trying to conceive naturally, but for some reason, not in IVF. I was floored, and gutted. I had been taken Royal Jelly for years, thinking that I was doing my little eggies a great bloody favour. Ugh!!

Anyway, we had as many tests as we could on the day, but were told that the Chicago tests were only done on certain days, so I had to go back the following week. GUTTED!!! Lyn couldn’t get any time off work, so my lovely sister, who had an 8 week old breast fed baby at home, offered to drive me because I am a wimp on the motorway. It was also a nice opportunity for us to check out her old stomping ground, as she went to Nottingham Trent University. One thing I’ll never forget from that day, is coming out of the 15 minute appointment (368 mile round trip for 15 mins!!!! Eeeek) to find Katy with her electric breast pumping machine strapped to her chest in the car park. I’m sure that the poor guy who decided to park next to her was left more than a little red in the face. Katy however, found it hilarious, as did I.

A few weeks later, the test results came back in and it was confirmed that I had high NK Cells and a mutated gene linked to thrombophilia. If we were going to undertake another round of IVF, I would need immune support treatment. Lyn’s DNA fragmentation was perfect, couldn’t be better in fact. Probably thanks to all of the spinach and kale that I forced him to eat!!! Good quality DNA of the sperm is essential for normal embryo development. High levels of DNA fragmentation in sperm cells may cause implantation failure and miscarriage, but conventional examinations won’t pick up the problem, they just look for issues surrounding sperm concentration, motility analysis, and morphology assessment. DNA damage is caused by oxidative stress, such as smoking, lifestyle, poor nutrition, environmental factors such as high levels of heat. As a potential baby inherits DNA from both parents, if the sperm is damaged or fragmented, it can lead to implantation failure or miscarriage. The good news is that DNA fragmentation can be improved by a change in lifestyle, supplements and better nutrition.

For more information, follow the link below. There is a lot of information regarding DNA Fragmentation available on the site…

http://www.spermcomet.com/

Armed with our newfound information, we decided that yes, we would do one final round of IVF, and having read Dr Beer’s book by this time, I was now aware of a pioneering Doctor in the field of reproductive immunology, who had been mentored by the man himself. His name, Doctor George Ndukwe. He used to be based at Care Fertility, but was now medical director at Zita West, London. Given than he was a world leader in this field, and this was our last shot at IVF, we decided to go to London for IVF with him instead. However, we would go on a little holiday first. Treat ourselves to a luxury break in the sun, before we possibly become parents!!

After a meticulous holiday search, we finally decided on Crete, to a 5* adults only, al a carte, all-inclusive resort. We could not wait. May 2016 came, and we headed to our own little corner of paradise. It was the most perfect week, hands down the best of our lives together. We had a swim up pool, quality food and drink on tap, beautiful views and only the sounds of running water and bird song. I have a 100 mile an hour brain at the best of times, but throw in IVF and miscarriage, and it catapults to a million miles per hour. It’s exhausting!!! However, for one whole week, it slowed to about 5mph, and it was glorious. We came home rejuvenated and happy, but most importantly, mentally ready for one final round of IVF.

 

 

So, it was August 2016 and off we went to London to meet the famous Dr George Ndukwe at Zita West Fertility Clinic. We wanted to find out from him if it was worth trying one final round of IVF, even though we had already discussed this with Care. He is a world leader in reproductive immunology and given my diabetes and history of miscarriage, I was convinced that he was the only man that could help us. Despite feeling satisfied about the next round being the last though, that didn’t stop me from feeling a mixture of great excitement and tremendous nerves at the prospect of meeting Dr George. What if he told us that there was no hope? He’s the best in his field and if he does, that’s going to be it for us!! It was a gut wrenching thought and I felt completely sick.

We arrived at the clinic, dripping in sweat, from nerves and the scorching London heatwave that was well underway, and as we sat in the waiting room, I remember feeling actual real fear, so much so that I was shaking, even my insides were shaking. This was our last hope. He was our last hope. I was silently chanting “please be nice, please help us, and please give us the news that we so desperately need to hear.” I was in a fog of terror, I had convinced myself that he was going to tell us that we should give up.

So we’re there, in this lovely waiting room, with calming music and comfortable chairs. I’m still shaking, and in walks Dr George. The second we met him, we fell completely in love with him. His big joyful smile that made his eyes twinkle, instantly set us at ease and his infectious laugh was just fabulous. I knew instantly that we’d be going back there for treatment and we hadn’t even set foot inside of his office yet!! I trust my instincts implicitly, they are always right, and I had one of the strongest of instinctive feelings ever with Dr George. I just knew. Phew, the relief was unbelievable!!!

Dr George ? Fertility  7/7/13

Our consultation was mind blowing. Dr George took us through all of the reasons why he felt that IVF and FET’s had failed for us in the past and stated that he truly believed we would become parents. He obviously could not guarantee it, but looking at our medical notes, we had a damn good chance!! Thanks to extensive research and having read Dr Alan Beer’s book, much of what Dr George was telling us, I already had a basic understanding of, but to have it confirmed by a medical professional of his stature meant so so much to us.

As you know, we had already been to Care Nottingham for the Chicago Immune tests, so did not need to have them done again and Dr George felt that due to my elevated NK Cells and mutated gene linked to Thrombophilia, I would require 3 intralipid infusions before the IVF and Clexane injections from transfer day. Due to my diabetes, he decided to stay clear of steroids, as they would interfere with my blood glucose control.

We agreed that we would undertake our 4th and final fresh IVF cycle in January 2017. Dr George wanted to wait a minimum of 3 months, to ensure suggested lifestyle changes, new supplements and nutrition changes would have the time to impact on my health and egg quality. We decided to wait a little longer though, as I felt that I needed more time to prepare, health wise and practical wise. We would want to live in London for the duration of the cycle, to minimize the stress of travelling, so I needed to find something fabulous and at a fabulously good price!! I also needed a fresh annual leave supply, as I would be taking 3 weeks off.

I was so incredibly pleased to hear all about the holistic approach to IVF at Zita West, because I had been trying to do it off my own back for around 12months, e.g. looking at my nutrition and finding ways to properly de-stress. The approach at Zita West met my expectations and needs exactly and fitted in with my newfound lifestyle perfectly. The advice provided by the nutritionist was exemplary and just fuelled my enthusiasm for transforming my mind, body and soul. I felt, for the first time in years, hope and excitement. And to top it off, Zita kindly gave me one of her relaxing scented candles to take home. That was the icing on the cake for us. We had been looking for a clinic that was at the top of it’s game, but was also friendly and would become part of our family, so to speak, and we had found them!!!

Stay tuned for Part 6, all about the best round of IVF that we have ever experienced and how we achieved 12 top quality frozen blastocysts!!

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Thank you for reading. Em 🙂 x

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