RENEE MOTAGNE, HOST:
A doctor in St. Louis is trying to help women give birth later in life by freezing their ovaries - not just their eggs, but their ovaries. This is controversial and considered risky by some. But now twin sisters have become the first healthy women to test if the procedure will work. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has their story.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started to worry whether she'd ever have a baby. So she got her fertility tested.
SARAH GARDNER: My fertility was something like 10 years older than me. So I was 34 and it was 44, which was really shocking news and very scary.
STEIN: Especially scary because she got the results just as she was breaking up with her boyfriend.
GARDNER: I was devastated, I was because I knew my relationship was about to end. And I knew that being a mom was something I wanted in my life. And I knew that it would be very difficult to achieve that given that I was about to be single. So, yeah, I was devastated.
STEIN: She eventually found a doctor in St. Louis who was removing and freezing women's ovaries to put their biological clocks on hold. So Gardner and her twin sister, who was also worried about running out of time to have kids, decided to do it together.
GARDNER: What it gave us was huge amounts of relief. We just sort of felt I could get on with my life without having to think about fertility. And it really just took a huge weight off us.
STEIN: Fast forward to today. Gardner's now in her mid-40s. She just got engaged and wants to finally try to have a baby. So she and her sister traveled back to St. Louis last month to get their ovaries thawed out and transplanted back in.
GARDNER: It's weird. It's like we went in a time machine - a fertility time machine. It's amazing. It honestly does feel like a scientific miracle.
STEIN: Because they don't just hope their transplanted ovaries will let them get pregnant. The ovaries should also reverse their menopause.
GARDNER: Oh, I'm excited. Yeah, I'm really excited. And it'd be really nice to not have another hot flash ever again. And it'd be nice to, yeah, to go back to being 36 again. It'd be really nice.
STEIN: Now, all this might sound pretty great. But not everyone's so sure. Here's why. The procedure was originally developed for women who have no alternatives because they're being treated for cancer and don't have time to freeze their eggs. Glenn Schattman is a reproductive specialist at Cornell.
He says it's far from clear how often it works. And egg freezing is a lot safer than going through two surgical procedures to have an ovary removed and later put back in.
GLENN SCHATTMAN: I think in today's day and age with what we know about egg freezing and what we know about ovarian tissue freezing and the risks involved in each of the two procedures, I would say it would be irresponsible to recommend this to anybody for elective fertility preservation.
STEIN: But Dr. Sherman Silber, who's offering the procedure at his clinic in St. Louis, argues it's much more reliable, easier and actually safer than egg freezing.
SHERMAN SILBER: With this procedure, it's all done in a half an hour. No medications before, no medications after and they're done. I mean, they go home and they don't have to think about it anymore. It's, like, 20 minutes and they're done. And the whole cost would be maybe $2,000 at most or $3,000. They're not going to have a bill for 50 or 60 or $70,000 dollars.
So there are huge advantages to this.
STEIN: Sarah Gardner agrees. She's back home in Australia. And her sister is back in England. They're both waiting for their periods to start again and hope to be pregnant by the end of the year. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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