June 14, 2009
Collinson Burgwin settles easily into his father’s arms while his mother smooths his tufts of bright red hair.
The baby’s birth eight months ago was the culmination of a 10-year process that sent the Highland Park couple out of state to find a fertility clinic that could help them have the child they yearned for.
“It was one thing after another, but I kept saying to my husband, ‘Maury, we’re destined to have a baby. We’re not giving up,’ ” said Maria Burgwin.
The Burgwins are among a growing number of couples who leave Western Pennsylvania to better their chances of conceiving a baby. Fertility experts inside and outside the state say couples travel for treatment for several reasons, including a larger, more diverse pool of donor eggs, shorter wait times for a donor egg and more attractive financial options. Others say it’s simply a case of effective marketing by bigger out-of-state clinics.
A Maryland center called Shady Grove Fertility, which is holding a free seminar today at the Sheraton Hotel in Station Square about its donor egg program, is on track to increase its number of Pittsburgh patients by 50 percent over the last year. Three dozen area couples signed up for today’s seminar.
“There are all sorts of different reasons people might choose a program outside of Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Carolyn Kubik, practice director for Reproductive Health Specialists, a private fertility center in Wexford and Monroeville.
“There are some people who might go to New York or New Jersey simply because they have family there that they can stay with,” she said. “Or sometimes they’re not familiar with the success rates of programs here. And cost is certainly a reason some couples might explore other programs.”
Western Pennsylvania has three fertility centers registered with the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, a membership organization that collects data and sets standards for fertility treatments. In addition to the independent Reproductive Health Specialists, there is the University of Pittsburgh Physicians Center for Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology at Magee-Womens Hospital and the Jones Institute at West Penn Allegheny Health Systems.
Maria Burgwin’s doctor advised her to travel out of state for treatment, first to Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility and then, when treatments there failed, to Shady Grove. Both centers are fertility powerhouses, each treating more than three times the number of patients treated by Western Pennsylvania’s clinics combined.
“We are one of the biggest and most successful programs in the country,” said Dr. Melissa Esposito, one of the Shady Grove doctors giving today’s presentation in Station Square. “So we’re able to offer more. We have a money-back guarantee program for (in vitro
All three of Western Pennsylvania’s fertility centers said they have versions of the money-back guarantee program, as well as donor egg programs. They conceded, however, that the region has less diversity of egg donors, which can make for longer waits. The Jones Institute can tap into a bigger pool of donors from its parent institute in Norfolk, Va.
Clinics such as Shady Grove “are very, very entrepreneurial and competitive — that’s a fair statement. They have a very large clinic that they’ve built up, and they offer a lot of programs,” said Dr. Scott Kauma, director of the Jones Institute at West Penn Allegheny. “But really, there’s nothing that they have to offer that I think is really any better than anything that we might have to offer.”
Greer Whalen of Mt. Lebanon has experience with clinics in and outside Pittsburgh. Six years ago, when she and her husband, Mike, were having trouble conceiving, she turned to Reproductive Health Specialists.
On their first try with in vitro fertilization — a process that unites egg and sperm in a laboratory and returns them to the mother’s womb -—- Whalen became pregnant with their son. But after several years and miscarriages as they tried for a second child, the couple turned to the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in Denver in 2007.
“I remember reading in (a magazine) where they rated the top fertility clinics in the country, and CCRM was No. 1,” she said. “That’s where my heart was telling me to go, even though I have nothing but good stuff to say about Dr. Kubik and her practice.”
The Colorado center genetically screened embryos before implanting them in the womb. Because genetic abnormalities had been blamed for Whalen’s miscarriages, the screening would increase the chance that only
The screening worked so well that all three implanted embryos were a success. That September, Whalen gave birth to triplets.
“The best advice I can offer is to get involved in the (in vitro) community,” said Whalen, who joined the Internet chat group ivfconnections.com, when she was preparing for treatments in Colorado. “You can learn so much about the different centers from women who have gone through it. It breaks down geographic borders.”
Allison M. Heinrichs