Fertility Program Gives Spinal Cord Injury Patients New Options to Raise a Family
Experts in multiple disciplines have come together in a groundbreaking program at the University of Utah that’s giving male spinal cord injury patients the opportunity to build families —something many of them believed wouldn’t be possible after life-altering injuries that presented challenges in family planning.
Housed at University Hospital, the fertility program helps paralyzed men create a biological family through a specialized sperm collection program that involves the use of an automated collection device. The device is an alternative to surgical methods and is cheaper and less invasive. Families also receive fertility counseling., then . when a couple successfully becomes pregnant, they receive occupational therapy so everyone is ready for the physical challenges that come with having a child.
Program coordinator Katarina Waters, DNP, FNP-C, MSN, APRN, said she loves the reaction she gets from potential fathers when they discover that they may be able to have a biological son or daughter despite their injuries.
“Some of our patients got injured when they were 18 or 19 years old and now they’re in their mid-30s and they want to start a family,” she said. “They get very excited because they have been trying on their own for several years and there are not a lot of options out there except invasive procedures like testicular biopsy or other surgical procedures.”
Waters and her colleagues conducted a preliminary needs assessment and found a huge gap in fertility services among spinal cord injury patients not only in Utah, but along the Intermountain West. The team knew they didn’t just want to focus on sperm extraction, but provide a full-service approach that would offer everything their patients needed to conceive, give birth, and care for a child.
“I think it’s great that we’re able to provide a comprehensive program,” Waters said. “It’s not just one person, it includes a lot of specialists and coordination. The program involves everything the couple needs, including referrals to an OB/GYN for the spouse, and physical and occupational therapists to help the couple adjust to having and raising a child.
The team trained under a pioneer of spinal cord injury fertility treatment, Stephen W. Seager, M.D., and trials started in May.
Jeffrey Rosenbluth, M.D., medical director of University of Utah Health Care’s Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation Program, explained the goal of the rehab center is to give patients the most normal life possible, including the opportunity to raise a family. He said the potential for this program goes well beyond a clinical setting and hits at the core of what makes us human.
“It’s fun to see when someone didn’t think they’d ever be able to have a child,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s a desire that’s innate in most individuals and spinal cord injury patients are no different. They deserve the opportunity to conceive and raise biological children. We want to help them do that.”
Waters noted sexuality and fertility can be a taboo topic. She said the University of Utah’s team was concerned about helping patients find new opportunities to lead a happy and fulfilling life when launching its new fertility program.
“This is something that people a lot of times don’t want to talk about,” she said. “Fertility and sexuality can be difficult to discuss and we want to be open to this area and help patients be successful. It’s part of life and most people want to have children and be successful parents.”
While the program is still in its beginning stages, Waters said she’s hoping to develop comprehensive services for spinal cord patients in a 500-mile radius from Salt Lake City.
“We have had great success so far,” Waters said. “We’re hoping to be able to have this program available for people in need, not only in Utah, but in other states as well.”
About the author:
Gentry Reinhart is a Communications Specialist at the University of Utah Health Science Public Affairs Office.comments powered by Disqus