ARGENTINA - In what doctors said was a medical first, an Argentinian woman with a transplanted heart gave birth to a baby girl following an in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Pregnancy after an organ transplant is considered a high-risk proposition because the drugs needed to ensure the transplanted organ is not rejected make pregnancy difficult, and their effects on the foetus are not clear.
"There is no record in the world of a transplant patient who has achieved pregnancy through in-vitro fertilisation," said Dr Gustavo Leguizamon, head of the high-risk pregnancy centre in Buenos Aires, where the treatment was performed.
The risks are even greater in heart patients because women have 40 per cent more blood during pregnancy, putting extra strain on the heart, AFP reported.
That could lead to not enough blood getting to the uterus, causing the baby to grow less and leading to a possibly premature birth, Dr Leguizamon said.
The medications needed to perform in-vitro fertilisation added yet another layer of complication, said Dr Ricardo James, a reproductive specialist at the centre.
But the risks did not stop Ms Juliana Finondo, 39, who was determined to chase her dream of motherhood.
"I was never afraid. Maybe I'm too optimistic," she said.
The graphic designer from eastern Argentina, who now lives in Buenos Aires, had a heart transplant in 1999.
At the time, doctors told her she could not risk getting pregnant after the surgery.
A decade later, she decided to try, but two years passed without her getting pregnant naturally.
Infertility can be a side effect of the immunosuppressant drugs used to prevent organ rejection, said Dr Sergio Papier, who heads a research centre focusing on gynaecology and reproduction.
Transplant patients "can see their ovarian reserve affected and their fertility diminish", said Dr Papier, who did not work with Ms Finondo.
The immunosuppressants work by preventing the development of new fast-growing cells, including those that are necessary for pregnancy, he said.
So after Ms Finondo was carefully examined to ensure she did not show any signs of rejecting her heart, her doctors designed a special medication plan to wean her from the drugs.
Ms Finondo got pregnant on her first round of IVF. After nine months of strict monitoring, she gave birth to a healthy girl - named Emilia - on Jan 15.
Ms Finondo's cardiologist Sergio Perrone said the case shatters prejudices of the limitations of a life post-transplant.
Said Dr Perrone: "Today a transplant patient has an excellent quality of life, much better than people realise."
He said he also hoped the story would encourage people to consider organ donation, "because it saves one life, which can be multiplied by so many more".
The infant Emilia "will become a mother in her time", he said.
Last year in Argentina, 630 donors contributed organs to 1,458 patients, a record rate of 15.7 donors per million people.
But there are 7,290 patients on the waiting list, according to government figures.
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