Miracle Baby

Page 6 of 7

"When I see a one-celled thing and then a woman walks in with her baby nine months later, that's the greatest high," he says.

Lori, sore after the egg retrieval and home from work, got a call from Graubert the next day. "The eggs are splitting," he said.

The couple decided to push the technological boundaries even further by using a procedure called blastocyst transfer. The method is brand new; the couple was the first in South Florida to use it. In traditional IVF, when the embryo reaches three days and has eight cells, it is ready to be implanted in the woman. In blastocyst transfer embryologists add a sugary solution to the petri dish and wait until the embryo is five days old and has 50 cells. At that point the embryo's genes have been "turned on" -- it is now a separate entity with DNA and protein, an amalgamation of the egg and sperm. These advanced embryos have a much better chance of lasting the full term. For that reason doctors have to insert only one embryo in the woman, whereas in standard IVF doctors would typically insert many more to ensure that at least one reaches full term. An added benefit of blastocyst transfer: It eliminates the possibility of triplets or quadruplets.

Lori did well; seven of her embryos survived to the fifth day. Graubert implanted two in her uterus, using a five-inch catheter in a simple and painless procedure. Why two? Most patients find twins acceptable, and -- as calculating as it sounds -- they get more bang for their buck: two kids for the price of one. Five embryos were left over, which Graubert froze for future use. The embryos are safe in his liquid nitrogen mini-freezer forever, insists Graubert -- what happened at the University of Miami cannot happen to him. There, something went wrong with a freezer and an undisclosed number of embryos were ruined. A Weston couple filed suit against the university in June, claiming the school stole their last chance to have a biological child. But Graubert has a newfangled alarm system built into the unit that is hooked up to a computer and actually beeps him when the temperature rises.

After the implantation Bill and Lori played a horrible waiting game for 11 days, waiting for a blood test that would confirm that Lori was pregnant. The couple could have bought a home pregnancy test but Lori decided, "I'm going to leave this in the doctor's hands." She told Graubert to call her and her husband together at 5 p.m., when Bill would get home from work. But she couldn't wait, she was about to burst. So she called the doctor back and said, "Call as soon as you know." At 10:30 a.m. Graubert, with his entire staff on speakerphone, called. They all played a part in the pregnancy of their first patient, all knew Wetzel's courageous story, and all wanted to share the good news with Lori.

"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.

"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."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Kay