Expecting Miracles: A Lafayette Doctor and His Wife Create the Perfect Gift for Couples with Infertility
Excerpt from an article by Chere Coen, published in Imagine Louisiana, Summer 2007 – On Saturday, April 14, 2007, at 6:46 p.m., weighing seven pounds two ounces, Hope Elizabeth Hughes was born at Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Lafayette. Hope’s mother, Laura Hughes, chose natural childbirth and was in labor for 23 hours before she and her husband, Terry, finally held their daughter in their arms.
While the birth was fairly routine, the couple’s journey to that moment was anything but ordinary.
After years of infertility, the Hughes had been selected to receive an all-expenses-paid cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment – the unique “Gift of Hope” to the south Louisiana community from a caring doctor and his wife, the hospital, and an anesthesia provider.
The Hughes are one of 2.1 million couples in the United States with infertility. Their condition dates to back-to-back ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages in 2001 which damaged Laura’s fallopian tubes. Against the odds, the couple kept trying to conceive. “It took us five years to say, ‘We’re done,'” said Laura, 32. “We made peace with it,” Terry, 39, added. “We felt that if it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen.”
The couple considered two more options – infant adoption and in vitro fertilization – but both seemed out of their reach financially with her income as a veterinary assistant and his income from a vending machine route. IVF typically costs between $10,000 and $15,000 per attempt. “It’s a big investment and what if it doesn’t work?” Terry said. “I didn’t want to put that burden on Laura. She’s the one who has to deal with the emotional pain.”
Almost miraculously, their situation changed thanks to another Lafayette couple, John and Amelie Storment. A reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility & Women’s Health Center of Louisiana, John has helped bring hundreds of babies into the world through IVf. Amelie directs marketing and publicity for the Center. One night over dinner, the Storments were discussing ways to call attention to the plight of infertile couples, especially those with modest means. “The Gift of Hope was Amelie’s brainchild,” John Storment said. “It was our way to give something back to the community and raise awareness about infertility.”
The couple incorporated the idea as a nonprofit organization, partnering with Women’s & Children’s Hospital to provide the special IVF surgical facilities with tightly-controlled humidity, temperature and light. Florida-based Sheridan Healthcare stepped forward to donate anesthesia services. Additionally, Storment got most of the medications used in an IVF cycle donated by pharmaceutical companies. They also recruited a volunteer selection committee to review the lengthy and often heartrending applications from couples seeking treatment.
The Gift of Hope went public in March of 2006 with a splash of coverage on local television news. The Hughes happened to be watching that night, but it didn’t matter. “All of a sudden, the phone started ringing,” Laura said with a laugh. “Everyone we know was calling and telling us to apply.”
Once again, the Hughes faced long odds. Sixty other Louisiana couples had also submitted their financial information, physician referrals, and personal accounts of their experiences with infertility. “We all read the letters,” said selection committee member Karen Alleman, a nurse at Women’s & Children’s Hospital. “We also looked at their medical histories, if they had been pregnant, to choose the best candidate who would have the best success.”
Even so, the changes are just 50/50 that the procedure will result in pregnancy. As it turns out, the human species is not particularly fertile, says Storment. “The best normal pregnancy rate is 20 percent. Seventy percent of all conceptions miscarry, because if there’s something wrong, the body will reject. We’re fighting human biology and it’s a bigger battle than we think.”
On Mother’s Day, the organization held a second media event to announce that Laura and Terry Hughes had been selected to receive Lafayette’s first Gift of Hope. It was a joyous day that may also have been the crest of a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Within a few weeks, Laura was receiving daily injections of fertility drugs to bring on “superovulation” in which the ovaries produce several mature eggs rather than a single egg that normally develops each month. Laura was able to inject some medications herself like allergy shots and other requiring large needles which Terry had to administer. The medications made her moody, she said, and put a strain on their relationship. “You have to talk to each other,” Laura said. “You have to because you lose control of yourself. Sometimes you cry for no reason.”
Storment points to an ample supply of Kleenex tissues in his office as proof that the hormone shots create dramatic mood swings resulting from a huge increase in estrogen levels. “A normal ovulatory cycle, the estrogen is 200,” he said. “With IVF, it’s 1,500 or 3,000. That’s because there are multiple eggs being produced.”
In August, the eggs were extracted and fertilized. Next, in a painless office procedure, two embryos were implanted. You lay for 30 minutes and then you go home,” Laura said, adding that she “laid down for a week and didn’t move.”
At last, Laura became pregnant, although it took several months before she could breathe easy. “I think between three and five months was the hardest because the baby was not big enough to feel,” she said. “Once I felt her I was better.” Terry helped relieve the pressure by doing all the housework and grocery shopping. He remodeled the house, decorating the baby’s room all in pink – they knew it would be a girl from the ultrasounds – with butterflies scattered about.
Like proud parents everywhere, the Hughes have taken hundreds of photos of their firstborn, Hope Elizabeth. The also have a picture that most parent’s never see – a photo of their baby in the first moments of conception taken through a microscope. Because of the iffy success rate among IVF patients, Storment presents the photos only at birth.
And how did the Hughes decide on the name Hope? Pure coincidence, Laura said. They liked names that started with “H” and other family members had already taken their favorite, Hannah.
The Gift of Hope is offered once a year in the spring with applications typically available to download from our website beginning in March of each year. For questions about the Gift of Hope, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org