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Video: Woman implanted with wrong embryo

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TODAY contributor
updated 9/21/2009 9:42:41 AM ET 2009-09-21T13:42:41

It is supposed to the happiest news a couple can get, especially a couple who have difficulty conceiving and carrying babies. The in vitro fertilization procedure had been a success: Carolyn Savage was pregnant.

And then came the horrible news: It wasn’t her baby. The fertility clinic they had used had made an all but inconceivable mistake and had implanted another couple’s embryos into Carolyn.

“They delivered the worst news of our life,” Sean Savage told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Monday from the family’s Sylvania, Ohio, home.

The Savages were presented with two devastating choices: They could either terminate the pregnancy, something that clashed with their religious beliefs, or they could carry the fetus to term and then hand him over to his biological parents.

That moment is rapidly approaching. Carolyn is 35 weeks pregnant and within the next two weeks will deliver the baby with his genetic parents attending the birth. At that time, the Savages will give up the infant, perhaps never to see or hold him again.

They are telling their story in the hopes that no other couple ever has to go through what they have endured.

“The hardest part is going to be the delivery,” Carolyn said. “I remember communicating with the mother of this child as to what I was envisioning and hoping for. I said, ‘We want a moment to say hello, and goodbye.’ ”

“It’ll be exceptionally difficult,” Sean admitted, even with the eight months they’ve had to prepare and the help they’ve received from mental health counseling. “But at the same time, we’ve been preparing this for months.”

Her last pregnancy
The couple waited 14 weeks into the pregnancy to have their lawyer contact the biological parents of the child. The initial contacts were done anonymously through attorneys. But they eventually met face to face and have had a relationship that the Savages characterized as cordial.

The Savages have three other children, and Carolyn, 40, has experienced multiple difficulties in becoming pregnant and carrying children to term. She had been told that this must be her final pregnancy, and the couple had planned to have the five embryos they had frozen implanted in the hopes that one would take.

Because of their beliefs, they feel they cannot destroy those embryos.

“We felt strongly that we needed to give every embryo that we created a chance at life,” Carolyn said.

So, when they complete this pregnancy, they intend to have a surrogate carry their remaining child or children to term. They have signed a contract with a surrogate and their attorneys are working out the complicated details.

TODAY
The couple struggled for 10 years to have a third child. After she was born they decided to implant the embryos left over from the IVF procedure so that they could have a chance at life.

In a statement to TODAY, the Savages’ attorneys said they are working to ensure that the fertility clinic that made the mistake “will accept full responsibility for the consequences of their misconduct.”

The Savages had met in 1989 when both were students at the University of Miami in Ohio. Four years later, they were married and almost immediately set out to have the large family they dreamed of.

Their first son, Drew, was born in September 1994 after a normal pregnancy. But after Drew’s birth, the couple began having reproductive problems. Their second son, Ryan, was born after 30 weeks of gestation in April 1997. The early delivery was necessitated when Carolyn was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening complication related to pre-eclampsia. The syndrome’s symptoms include anemia, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count along with elevated blood pressure.

Although Drew spent four weeks in neonatal intensive care, he is now a healthy 12-year-old.

10 years of trying
The Savages were told that it was safe for Carolyn to get pregnant again, and for the next 10 years they tried to conceive their third child. They resorted to ovulation stimulation, but all they had to show for it were two early miscarriages.

Finally, the couple opted to try in vitro fertilization through a fertility clinic. The first attempt resulted in another miscarriage. At that time, Carolyn was diagnosed with two blood-clotting disorders that may have contributed to her other difficulties.

Undeterred, the couple finally succeeded in conceiving a daughter though in vitro fertilization in 2007. After 32 weeks of gestation, a return of Carolyn’s HELLP syndrome necessitated an early delivery in March 2008 via Caesarean section. Like her older brother Drew, Mary Kate spent four weeks in intensive care and is now a healthy child. Video: What do you do with frozen embryos?

This past February, in the belief that they were using the last of their frozen embryos, Carolyn went back to the fertility clinic. On Feb. 16, a blood test confirmed that one of the embryos was viable and Carolyn was pregnant.

‘I have bad news’
Sean remembers being told in a phone call at work. Stunned, he went home to tell Carolyn.

“I was upstairs in my bedroom and he came to the door and said, ‘I have really bad news,’ ” she recalled. Then came the news: “You’re pregnant, but they transferred the wrong embryo.”

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Carolyn remembers saying, “You’re joking, you’re joking, you’re joking.” But when she looked at her husband, she knew it was true. “He was white as a sheet,” Carolyn said.

The pregnancy has been without complication, but it’s been anything but easy.

“It’s been hard,” Carolyn told Vieira. “We’ve been rooting for the baby the whole time. We moved from a position of shock to a realization that this was actually going to happen. We needed to put the needs of the pregnancy and the child first. It’s just been difficult, but we feel we made the right decisions on how to handle it.”

The Savages said the other couple has expressed their gratitude at the Savages’ decision not to terminate the pregnancy. The Savages told the couple they understand how difficult it is for everyone.

“What we expressed to them is that we know they did not ask for this. They were at home with their family minding their own business. We are not going to impress ourselves into their lives,” Carolyn told Vieira. “Of course, we will wonder about this child every day for the rest of our lives. We have hopes for him, but they’re his parents, and we’ll defer to their judgment on when and if they ever tell him what happened and any contact that’s afforded us. We just want to know he’s healthy and happy.”

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