My father used to tell me that he lived in denial when it came to my health. He would not accept the fact that I was limited because of the genetic disease I was born with. He told me, that like a baseball player, I could change my statistics based on my efforts. My father told me that I had to look at the positives in anything. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what the positives were to having a life-threatening disease.
Being born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems, my parents were told I probably wouldn’t live to see my teens. I had to do an hour of treatments each day along with taking about forty pills. Thanks to aggressive treatments, hard work, and a little luck along the way, I was able to prove those doctors wrong. I have become an avid weightlifter, a graduate of a four-year college, a full-time employee, a runner and an author of three books, including Alive at 25: How I’m Beating Cystic Fibrosis (Longstreet Press, 2001). I am also the chairman and founder of a softball tournament that has raised over half a million dollars to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in memory of my sister Wendy, a co-founder of our family foundation. I am also proud of being an Olympic Torchbearer in 2001. In September of 2002, I married my soulmate Andrea who amazingly had faced many of the same challenges I did.
Andrea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and thyroid cancer in her mid-twenties. Still through hard work and treatments, her MS is no longer progressing and her cancer has not come back. She has raised thousands of dollars for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and in June of 2004, she too ran with the Olympic Torch.
We appreciated all of our accomplishments, but we’d trade them all in just to have children. It brought me back to what my father always told me. I couldn’t think about the odds, rather I had to do my best to improve them.
I’d been told by my doctor that my sperm was “sub-optimal” and therefore I could not have children. Andrea’s multiple sclerosis and bout with thyroid cancer meant it might be more difficult for her to have children too. Another obstacle we had to face was that we weren’t getting any younger. Andrea and I were both in our thirties when we wanted to have children.
The doctor’s words did not deter me from having children and Andrea, a survivor herself, wouldn’t let me give up even if I wanted to.
Our first time walking into an infertility clinic in Atlanta, we were curious what our experience would be like. When we first entered the waiting room, it seemed as if we were in some type of awkward library. Everyone was very quiet, holding magazines in front of their faces, not wanting to be recognized. Many of them considered seeking help a sign of weakness. We didn’t. It was the only option we had.
Our doctor was Carlene Elsner and we couldn’t have picked a more perfect doctor. She had all the smarts the other doctors had, but it was her sense of humor, her optimism, and her compassion that drew us closer to her. She told us from day one that she was going to get us pregnant.
Despite my faith in Dr. Elsner, I had a lot of fears about IVF though I knew very little about it. I knew from friends who had gone through it that there were physical and financial tolls. We began trying during the summer of 2005. My sperm was collected through a procedure called TESA and Andrea’s eggs were removed the same day through another surgical procedure. Prior to the procedure and a few weeks after it, I gave Andrea injections in her hips in hopes that it would stimulate the pregnancy. A few weeks later, we got the call. Bad news. Andrea was not pregnant.
They were able to remove more eggs from Andrea’s ovaries the second time, but the news was the same. We were not pregnant. We realized that IVF was not only strapping physically and financially, but also emotionally. We told ourselves that we would try three times and if we were unsuccessful, we would look into adoption or some other alternative. We still had faith in our doctors, but we began to believe that there was just something wrong with our bodies and IVF would never work.
We had more eggs removed the third time as the doctors were constantly making adjustments so that egg production increased. That didn’t mean any guarantees, but we were able to produce better quality embryos this time around. Two weeks later, we sat nervously in our den when we got the call.
Dr. Elsner wanted to be the one to give us the news. “Andrea, you’re pregnant,” she announced. Andrea and I were ecstatic. All of the hard work had paid off. We were going to be parents! And in August of 2008, we will have our second child through IVF, which worked the first time that round. We have a healthy, beautiful two-year old daughter named Avery Leah Lipman and while having CF makes it tougher to do things with her, I still find the time to play with her as much as I can. While Andrea has her plethora of doctor’s appointments and her concerns about her health, she, too, makes the most of every day with Avery and both of us look forward to our next child.
I thought about what my father said. There are positives in everything. There was one big positive about having a life-threatening disease. It was one I never thought about when I was little. Through our medical adventures, Andrea and I learned that tomorrow is never guaranteed and because of that, we will forever appreciate the most important day of all—today.