The woman who received the nation’s first uterus transplant prayed for years to get pregnant, she said Monday, in her first public appearance since the procedure two weeks ago.
The 26-year-old woman, identified only as Lindsey, spoke Monday morning at a press conference at Cleveland Clinic, where she received a uterus from a deceased donor on Feb. 24 in a groundbreaking procedure that tested the ethical boundaries of reproductive medicine.
The woman was rolled out in a wheelchair Monday morning in a pink zippered shirt, facing rows of reporters and white coats. She said she and her partner, Blake, have adopted “three beautiful little boys” through the foster care system, but she has always wanted to have a natural birth.
At age 16, she said, she was told she would never have kids. “From that moment on, I have prayed that God would allow me the opportunity to experience pregnancy.”
Lindsey’s surgery was the first in a clinical trial that aims to transplant uteruses in 10 women who can’t get pregnant because of their uterus is damaged or missing.
Lindsey expressed “immense gratitude” to the family of her donor, who doctors disclosed was a woman who died suddenly in her 30s and had previously given birth.
Members of the 70-person surgical team were “very euphoric” after the nine-hour transplant, said Dr. Tommaso Falcone, a gynecological surgeon.
Dr. Ruth Farrell, a bioethicist who worked on the team, addressed criticisms that the procedure is unnecessary and puts patients and babies at risk. She asked critics to consider the perspectives of women who were born without a uterus or have abnormalities that prevent them from getting pregnant.
“These women face the real possibility of never having children,” she said.
Farrell said adoption and surrogacy can be “beautiful solutions to help build families,” but for legal, cultural, religious, and other reasons, “those options may not be available” to all women.
For Lindsey, having a baby is still a couple of years away.
Before the transplant, she had her eggs harvested and fertilized.
Now, she will stay on a regimen of immunosuppressant drugs as long as she has the uterus. She’ll spend one to two months in Cleveland before going home, and wait one year before doctors try implanting an embryo inside her. And she’ll have to have a cesarean section, because a vaginal birth might be too risky.
“We don’t exactly know how these uteruses would respond to the normal signals of labor,” explained Dr. Uma Perni, a gynecological surgeon.
After one to two babies, Lindsey would likely have another surgery to remove the new uterus so that she can stop taking the drugs. But doctors are still figuring out if that’s the best way, said transplant surgeon Dr. Andreas Tzakis.
“From the lab work that we did, when the uterus rejected, it practically vanished, disappeared,” said Tzakis, who the New York Times reported has practiced the procedure on swine and baboons. If that happens in humans, he said, doctors might allow the body to simply absorb the organ instead of removing it.
Though surgeons in Sweden have conducted uterine transplants from living donors, the Cleveland Clinic team is sticking to dead donors for this trial, to minimize risk to the donor, said Falcone.
“We went this way first, but we feel that with time, perhaps we’ll come up with a surgical” technique to enable safer removal of an organ from a related living donor, he said.
Falcone said he doesn’t know how much the procedure would cost if it becomes available to the wider public.
Meanwhile, one more hopeful mother has been lined up for a transplant, and several more are in the pipeline. Tzakis said he doesn’t know how long it will take to conduct all 10 transplants and help the women through pregnancy to birth.
“The whole process is very labor- and time-consuming,” he said. “We don’t want to do things quickly.”