An ectopic pregnancy led Shanna to Loma Linda University in search of answers.
Dr. Shanna Newbold suddenly became a patient herself while she was on an anesthesia rotation during her emergency medicine residency.
“All of a sudden I had this horrible pain,” she recalls. “In less than an hour, I was the one going under anesthesia. I had a torsion. I had a giant cyst in my fallopian tube, and I lost it.”
Torsion, or twisting, of the fallopian tubes is a rare but serious condition that can manifest over time or more immediately as sharp abdominal pain. Treatment typically involves laparoscopic repair but in Shanna’s case, her affected tube was surgically removed.
Many women experience fallopian tube problems similar to Shanna’s, which can result in tubal infertility, one of the more common reasons that an otherwise healthy woman cannot get pregnant. Damage to the fallopian tubes can prevent sperm from reaching the egg and the fertilized egg from passing into the uterus.
Partial or complete loss of tubal function creates a hurdle that can reduce a woman’s chances of getting pregnant naturally. Other women, in order to prevent further complications, must have their tubes removed, making in vitro fertilization (IVF) the only possible route to pregnancy and motherhood.
One tube, no tubes – even more problems
Shanna’s remaining fallopian tube provided her and her husband, Gerard, a good chance of conceiving naturally. Some time after her tubal torsion experience, when Shanna had finished her residency, they tried again and Shanna was soon pregnant. But there was a problem.
“I kind of knew from the beginning that something was wrong, and that I might have had an ectopic pregnancy,” says Shanna.
In an ectopic pregnancy, rather than the embryo implanting in the uterus, it implants outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube, which is what had happened to Shanna’s embryo. An ectopic pregnancy cannot be carried to term and is a life-threatening situation to the mother, because the embryo grows and ruptures the fallopian tube.
“My OB/GYN decided to treat me medically, with methotrexate, a medication to help my body process the ectopic pregnancy. My doctor cleared me to do whatever I wanted to do. A couple of weeks later, I was at my mom’s house, about to hop on a plane and go to Hawaii,” Shanna says. “But the ectopic ruptured, and I almost died.”
Shanna went to the ER, again in great pain, with severe internal bleeding. The team performed emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and save her life.
“It was frustrating,” Shanna remembers. “I wasn’t sure about the methotrexate to begin with. But it was also frustrating because when I had my ectopic, my sister and I were pregnant at the same time. We thought we were going to have our firstborn children together.”
Shanna knew that IVF was the only way she could get pregnant after losing both fallopian tubes. As a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, and working at a nearby community hospital, Shanna chose Loma Linda University Center for Fertility & IVF for treatment.
Within a year after her ectopic pregnancy, she had finished one round of retrieving and freezing her eggs. A few months later, she and Gerard completed a frozen embryo cycle. Unfortunately, the cycle wasn’t successful.
“I had a huge amount of embryos, probably more than I should have had,” says Shanna. “And they say that a quarter of them are normal, so statistically it was probably just that those first ones we implanted weren’t normal. Still, it was really depressing. I was supposed to have this excellent chance of getting pregnant because my problem was known.”
A bumpy road to parenthood
The couple, with close to 20 frozen eggs remaining, scheduled another try right away. A setback occurred when Shanna developed an allergic reaction to one of the medications. She switched to an alternative medication. After the embryo transfer, Shanna found out her progesterone levels were low and she had been taking a low dose of progesterone which may have contributed to her failure to conceive.
Shanna and Gerard were devastated and decided to move their embryos to another fertility center for a fresh start in their family building experience. “I was going to make the change, but then I talked to Dr. Corselli on the phone,” recalls Shanna.
After listening to Shanna’s experience at Loma Linda Fertility Center, Dr. Corselli and Dr. Jacobson conferred, and wanted the chance to improve Shanna’s impression and experience at the Fertility Center. They offered Shanna and Gerard another attempt at pregnancy as a courtesy.
“They understood our frustration and doubt and wanted to make things right,” recalls Shanna. “I just felt like they really cared. They just really went the extra mile.”
Going the extra mile included welcoming an acupuncturist into the room during Shanna’s third frozen embryo transfer cycles. The needles stopped the painful contractions that she experienced during other transfers.
A week later, the couple was home and Shanna took a pregnancy test. She initially thought it was negative. Then Gerard checked it.
“Look!” he said. “It’s a weak line!”
She took another test in the morning, when human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is more concentrated in the urine, and it was positive.
“It worked!” says Shanna. “It was just so exciting. I’m so thankful. What a blessed thing to have a little baby.”
As it turned out, baby Wyatt was born just three months apart from his cousin, Shanna’s sister’s second child.
The couple plans on continuing to grow their family. “We’ll go back to Loma Linda Fertility after Wyatt’s a little older,” Shanna says. “All thanks to the IVF program at Loma Linda, we have the cutest, healthiest little boy and we can’t wait to try again!”