Miracle Baby

Seven years ago Bill Wetzel got testicular cancer and became sterile. Luckily he had already made a deposit at the sperm bank.

"Are you sitting down?" Graubert asked Lori. "You're pregnant."

Getting pregnant cost the Wetzels $13,000, but they're lucky: Some couples undergo several attempts before getting pregnant, racking up a bill of $50,000 or more.

Given Bill's limitations, Graubert is amazed that the couple conceived on their first try. Without ICSI there is "no way in hell" the couple could have gotten pregnant. So many technological breakthroughs, so many hours of research and treatment -- the ICSI, the blastocyst transfer, the frozen sperm, even the chemotherapy -- have led the couple to this remarkable moment. Wetzel is one of only two testicular cancer patients at the Sylvester Cancer Center to use frozen sperm to impregnate their wives.

Lab assistant Mary Carmona adds a special buffer to a sperm sample to protect it in the sub-zero cryovault
Melissa Jones
Lab assistant Mary Carmona adds a special buffer to a sperm sample to protect it in the sub-zero cryovault

"All our cases are unique, but this really is a miracle baby," says Graubert. "This simply would not have been possible five years ago."


On June 27, 1999 -- the 27th day of the sixth month, at 6:27 a.m., Connor William Wetzel was born. Bill and Lori aren't sure what the significance of these numbers is, but they're certain they mean something, that the numerals are somehow part of the miracle that is their child.

Connor left the womb with one arm raised up in the air, as if he couldn't wait to push himself into the world. The sight filled Bill with such joy that tears spilled over his face. "I never even thought I was going to get married, let alone be a dad," he says. "I thought I was damaged goods."

He was also a bit relieved that Connor "doesn't have three eyes." Although no increase in genetic or developmental abnormalities has been reported in children born from blastocyst transfer, no hard data exist yet. Standard IVF, however, has a long track record of children with no more abnormalities than those conceived the old-fashioned way.

Right after the birth the couple immediately called Wetzel's father, who happened to be vacationing for the first time in 13 years, in Las Vegas. "Connor's here," said William Sr.'s new wife.

"Who the hell is Connor?" he asked. Later he went downstairs to the casino and played 6-2-7 repeatedly. "I lost a lot on 627," he says.

But then again, William's not much of a betting man. If you had asked him six years ago to gamble on whether his son would survive, marry, have a child, and live a prosperous life, he would not have taken that bet.

Six months later the Wetzels are putting Connor to sleep in a bedroom of their Davie townhouse. Connor is a large baby with a sweep of blond hair and ruddy cheeks. The room is decorated in a cowboy and bears theme, reflecting the couple's love of country music. Little teddy bears with cowboy hats wield lassos on pillows and ride on a mobile above the crib and on the border paper that lines the yellow walls. A needlepoint reads: "Babies are a miracle of love -- Connor William, June 27, 1999."

After Connor falls asleep, the couple walks downstairs to the living room and squeezes into a large chair together, stretching their legs across an ottoman. Zeus, the dog, is still around and squeezes in next to them. The room is cozily decorated with oversize blue furniture and a gigantic entertainment unit packed with pictures of the Wetzels' wedding, their European vacation, their families, and Connor. The attractive couple -- both 36 years old -- bubble over with happiness, constantly joking and laughing. They ruminate on their experience, how grateful they are for the scientific breakthroughs of the last decade. They disagree with religious purists who believe the couple has stepped firmly into God's domain. (The Catholic Church opposes IVF.)

"Some people say it's not natural, God's not involved," says Bill. "Well, I believe God worked through these people. It's a fusion of science and religion. Any child you get is a blessing. I wanted to leave something behind."

Wetzel has been free of cancer for years but will be under Benedetto's care for the rest of his life. Since he had Connor, he now sweats his thrice-yearly visits to Benedetto. "I have more to lose now," he explains.

Meanwhile, back at the Palmetto Fertility Center of South Florida, five more chances to conceive await Bill and Lori. Five embryos bide their time in the cryogenic freezer, sharing quarters with 100 other sisters and brothers of the new frontier. You can't even see these embryos with the naked eye, that's how tiny they are, yet their sex has already been determined. So has their eye color. Their hair color.

Lori wanted to surprise her husband and have one embryo implanted this summer, but the plan fell apart when she learned he would have to sign papers before the procedure. So they'll try together this summer.

Lori still holds on to her dream of having that basketball team.

RELATED LINKS

Sylvester Cancer Center

The Repository
Fort Lauderdale sperm and embryo bank

Contact Julie Kay at her e-mail address:

julie.kay@newtimesbpb.com

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