Toledo Free Press: Savage Choice

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Couple prepares for baby from ‘mistaken’ embryo

Written by Kristen Rapin-Criswell

Every morning, when Carolyn Savage wakes up to greet the day, the reality washes over her again.

“I kind of come to a consciousness ‘I’m awake, it’s a new day,’ and I go to get out of bed and I can’t move,” she said. “I think, ‘What’s wrong? Oh, right, I’m pregnant, only I’m pregnant with someone else’s baby.’ It smacks me in the head all over again.”

The joy of pregnancy turned into a heartbreaking scenario for Sean and Carolyn Savage after a fertility clinic implanted Carolyn with another family’s embryo.

State of shock

The Savages, of Sylvania Township, parents to two teenage boys and an 18-month girl, had prior problems with pregnancies when they turned to in-vitro fertilization for their fourth child.

In early February, the Savages were waiting to hear back from the fertility clinic about that morning’s pregnancy test when Sean received some shocking news at work.

Their doctor called to tell him they were pregnant, but with someone else’s embryo.

Driving home, Sean said he was in a state of shock.

“I knew I was going to be delivering really bad news and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible,” he said. “I just knew I had to do it, but it was never something I wanted to do.”

Carolyn, who was surprised her husband was home, didn’t believe the news: “I thought he was joking, even though there was nothing about his demeanor that would suggest that. I didn’t think it was possible, this couldn’t happen. I quickly moved from a state of shock to tears. I couldn’t think clearly at all.”

The Savages, who say they are both religious and active members of St. Joseph’s church in Sylvania, said terminating the pregnancy was never an option.

“We didn’t have to discuss it. We came to an instantaneous conclusion; this was the path that we had to go down,” Sean said.

The Morells

Seventy miles north in Troy, Mich., Shannon (whose maiden name is Savage, but is not related to the Savages) and Paul Morell have twin daughters conceived by in-vitro fertilization.

Just as the couple was preparing to revisit their frozen embryos, they received news from their doctor that their embryos had been implanted into another woman and she was pregnant.

The two families began talking to each other through attorneys and then met at the end of Carolyn’s first trimester.

“That was the longest 14 weeks probably of my entire life,” Shannon said on the Sept. 21 ‘Today Show.’ “We didn’t know who they were. Were they good people? It’s the oddest feeling to have somebody else carrying your child because, as a parent, you want to do everything possible to protect your child. Even though we were grateful, it was just a terrible feeling.”

The Savages said they wanted to meet the Morell family before sharing the situation with their family and friends.

Following that meeting, the Savages sat down with their sons to explain the situation.

“Telling the kids was hard; we were graced by the fact that they were 14 and 12 at the time and understood the biology behind what had happened, so they understood why the baby inside of me was not ours,” Carolyn said. “They wanted to know why wouldn’t he or she want to stay with us; we have it pretty good. We explained that this baby was wanted and loved by his parents and that we would be returning him upon delivery and that was the right thing to do. And they got it.”

‘Third wheel’

As the pregnancy progresses, the Savages have kept in constant contact with the Morells. Shannon has even accompanied the couple to an ultrasound.

“We thought that it was an important thing to do for them; they have been cheated out of experiencing their own pregnancy with their son. She hadn’t had a chance to see a live ultrasound and those are kind of special when you’re pregnant,” Carolyn said. “We wanted to make sure we gave them that opportunity no matter how difficult it was for us. And it was difficult. It’s difficult to lay on an ultrasound table and have the technician be talking to someone else. Pointing out things about their baby. I think that was one of the more surreal moments that we’ve had.”

Shannon has said she felt a bit surreal herself. She told the Associated Press, “I felt like a third wheel. Although I knew that the child inside her was mine, it wasn’t the same feeling I had with our twins.”

Difficult moments

The Savages say there have been many difficult moments in the pregnancy. Sean said pregnancies are long and hard regardless, but this one has been particular grueling for their family.

“I can’t believe this has happened to our lives; this is unreal. I think there was a lot of anger early on. I think, ‘Why did the person or persons responsible for this situation not afford our family the same level of care that they had given every other family that had been in their care?’ There’s still anger about that. I take that personally.”

Carolyn, approaching 36 weeks, says despite the unusual circumstances, the focus is on the baby. She is due Oct. 25.

The Savages, who have had two premature births, their daughter at 32 weeks and a son at 30, want to give the baby as much time as they can.

“We’re hoping to get this baby further along, so when the Morells come to the hospital, they don’t have to spend any time in the intensive care unit. We want to spare the baby the invasive procedures that are performed there,” Carolyn said.

As the delivery approaches, Sean said, “We’re trying to frame the delivery not as a loss, but as a gift to another family. We’re trying to remain focused on that part, not what our loss is. We’re in uncharted territory. We just don’t know … after the delivery, we don’t know what it’s going to be like. We’ll just have to navigate it like we have been.”

The Morells will be in the delivery room to see the birth of their son, and have stated that the Savages can have any contact they want.

“How do you thank somebody for what they’ve done? I could say thank you a million different ways,” Shannon told The Associated Press.

Going public

The Savages say they retained a public relations agency and went public with their story because, “We concluded that at some point the information was going to come out, and if it was, we wanted to be the ones to share the information. We didn’t want it to come out where we couldn’t share the correct information,” Sean said. “After going through this, we realized that we don’t want anyone else to experience this. We believe the result of the attention given to this will cause the medical community to take a step back and do everything according to protective protocol because we’re living examples of what can happen if steps are skipped.”

Always wanted

After the mix-up, the families terminated contact with the clinic, located outside Ohio, and have yet to be offered any explanation as to why the mix-up occurred.

The Savages have since transferred their remaining embryos to another clinic in Atlanta. Due to health reasons, this baby will be Carolyn’s last pregnancy. The Savages have been working with family lawyers and will have their remaining eggs implanted into a surrogate.

The Savages said they want the unborn baby to know, “At no time was he not wanted; we’ve always wanted him. I think too many people wanted. He’s the luckiest baby in the world; he’s coming in loved by more people than most babies. We knew that he belonged with his mom and his dad, and we love him,” Carolyn said.

“We will always think of him, and always pray for him, and always wonder how he is,” Sean said. “This is just the right thing to do, and we want to be able to look back 30 years from now knowing we did the right thing.”

The Savages said they have hired an attorney to make sure the fertility clinic accepts “full responsibility for the consequences of their misconduct.”

In-vitro explained

In-vitro fertilization is a six-week-long process. The first four weeks, the woman takes ovary-suppressing medication, such as birth control. The following two weeks, a woman must take daily gonadotropins to stimulate the growth of multiple eggs upon the ovary.

The woman must then undergo a surgical procedure to remove the eggs. The eggs are taken and fertilized. If there are any viable eggs left after the process, they are then frozen and stored for later use by that couple.

Dr. John Murphy, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist for ProMedica, said, “The Savage’s case is extremely rare. There are redundancies built into the system that are meant to safeguard these mistakes.”

There is no set protocol for a clinic, but generally they follow similar procedures, Murphy said. At every step of the process the embryos are labeled and coded in a variety of ways. The embryos are segregated from each other so there can be no mix-up that way. If there is any human interaction, there is double or triple checking of action by fellow technicians. The final precaution they have in place is “the stop,” where doctors and technician take a step back and identify what they are doing and the name of the patient.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Sean and Carolyn Savage released the following statement on Sept. 25:

“On Thursday, September 24, 2009, Carolyn Savage gave birth to a healthy baby boy at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. At this time, we would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Morell family on the birth of their son. We wish Paul, Shannon, their twin girls and their new baby boy the best, as they move forward with their lives together. Our family is deeply grateful for the support and prayers of so many people from around the world. We also would like to thank the medical professionals who provided superior care and treatment throughout the pregnancy and delivery.Our family is going through a very difficult time and requests privacy in the days ahead.”

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