Triumph Over Poor Sperm Count & Male Infertility

Stephani and Kyle never imagined they would face male infertility due to poor sperm count. But once they found Dr. Gihan Bareh and the LLU team, they knew their dreams of parenthood would come true.

Stephani with her husband Kyle; they overcame poor sperm count and had miracle baby Elijah | LLU Center for Fertility & IVF | Loma Linda, CA
Stephani, Kyle and Elijah.

Stephani and her husband Kyle’s journey to parenthood was woven with threads of faith, love and unwavering determination. It all began in San Diego in 2016 when Stephani, a travel nurse, crossed paths with her future husband through mutual friends. Their connection deepened over time, culminating in a beautiful wedding in 2018 and a dreamy delayed honeymoon in Hawaii the following summer.

With hearts full of hope and anticipation, they decided to start trying to build a family. However, as months passed without conception, Stephani began to feel a nagging sense of concern. Despite her regular cycles and meticulous tracking of ovulation, pregnancy remained elusive. It wasn’t until June, after a year of trying, that she sought medical advice.

Discovering the problem: low sperm count (oligospermia)

Initial tests revealed no abnormalities, but Stephani’s intuition urged her to delve deeper. It was a journey filled with uncertainties and moments of doubt, but through it all, her husband’s steadfast faith remained a guiding light. “God told me I was going to be a father,” Kyle had told her.

Stephani started to think maybe the issues weren’t due to her and it was her husband, but she had a hard time bringing it up to him. Once she finally asked her husband to get a semen analysis, the first specimen got lost in the mail and never made it to the lab. After a while they got another test done and the results came back abnormal. The tests showed his sperm count was 600,000 per million milliliters of semen, and a normal amount is 15-200 million per milliliter. There were also a couple of hormones that were off, but the main issue was a low sperm count, also known as oligospermia.

The turning point in their story came when they were ultimately diagnosed with male infertility. Stephani was shocked, having never considered this possibility. Yet with courage and resilience, they faced the diagnosis head-on.

Removing a varicocele to improve poor sperm count

Before going to Dr. Gihan Bareh they went to a urologist who diagnosed that Kyle had a varicocele, and in April of 2021 he had a varicocelectomy (removal of it). Following the procedure, a semen analysis was done after a few months, and it showed his sperm count was still pretty low.

At the time, the couple was stationed in California with her husband being in the military (during 2020-2021) at Ft. Irwin, which is in proximity to Loma Linda. But with limited resources in the military, they were not able to get coverage for in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is a good option in cases of low sperm count, or coverage fertility care at all with their insurance plan (Tricare).

Stephani looked into Balboa Naval Center where they provide IVF and she found out they had a yearlong waitlist to start treatment. She decided that they couldn’t wait that long, so she started Googling IVF clinics in the area and LLU Center for Fertility kept popping up.

One of the first things Stephani did was look at the clinic’s patient reviews on the website and then she looked at Google & Yelp reviews while looking at Dr. Bareh’s track record. She called the clinic and a military referral moved them up on the waitlist.

When they saw Dr. Bareh, she said that to even consider an IUI (intrauterine insemination), they would have to have a sperm count of 10 million or higher, and Kyle’s semen analysis showed his sperm count was only at 1.9 million. So, she recommended they visit Dr. Edmond Ko at LLU, who thought they had enough sperm to be successful with IVF.

Moving forward with IVF fertility treatment

“I was pretty shocked at first to find out we had to do IVF, and never knew anyone who had ever had it done. But I felt blessed we could financially do it. I knew I could do it and was 100% in because I knew it was our only option to have kids,” says Stephani.

Dr. Bareh requested another sperm sample before starting IVF because she wanted to make sure of the count and also have backup sperm. “Dr. Bareh also asked if we were open to sperm donation, and I was not really interested,” Stephani says. “But looking back, Dr. Bareh was just so invested in helping us start a family that she suggested that option.”

Next, they moved forward with sperm freezing in August of 2021, followed by the egg retrieval in October and the embryo transfer in February of the next year.

Dr. Bareh told Stephani and her husband, “I think you will have success right away because you (Stephani) are not the problem. Most of the time it’s the woman who has the problem.”

News of IVF results brings joy and disbelief

Their journey culminated in a moment of pure joy and disbelief when they received the news they had longed for: Stephani was pregnant. It was a testament to their resilience, faith and the miracles that unfold in the face of adversity – particularly with the right care. “Dr. Bareh was right: It worked the first time,” says Stephani.

A moment Stephani remembers was when nurse Angie expressed her excitement about reading her human chorionic gonadotropin levels (even though Stephani was checking her own levels at work, being a nurse).

A different fertility clinic from the rest

When Senior Clinical Embryologist Sam Aridah pulled Stephani and her husband into the lab to see the embryo on the screen, “That was a special moment,” says Stephani. She felt the way the clinic included them and the personal touches when you are going through one of the most personal times in your life is what sets the team apart.

Stephani and her husband faced moments of frustration going through treatment, especially for her because her husband didn’t fully understand what she was going through, but he did go to all the appointments and was very supportive. At the end of the day, her husband’s faith carried her through.

“His faith really blew me away,” says Stephani. She feels they are now so much stronger. The road to get there strengthened their marriage, and once they were under the care of Dr. Bareh, everything went smoother.

A smooth pregnancy – until preeclampsia

When they found out they were pregnant, Stephani’s husband was so confident they were going to have kids that when he heard the heartbeat, he knew his life would be forever changed.

Throughout her pregnancy, Stephani was filled with gratitude and awe at the miracle growing within her. She didn’t suffer from any morning sickness and she even worked as an ER nurse up until a week before she gave birth.

At 36 weeks when she stopped working, she started to get a little bit of swelling. Then at 37 weeks, she was struck with severe preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure during pregnancy that can cause miscarriage and harm to mother and child. Stephani had woken up from a nap and she couldn’t see, she had a headache and was nauseated.

At the time, she was in Dallas because she wanted to be close to family and the hospital she was familiar with and wanted to deliver at. She proceeded to go to the hospital following her symptoms, and they informed her she was going to deliver that day.

Facetime with Kyle during her C-section

Kyle was still in California, so they Facetimed him during the C-section from the OR. It was determined at the time of delivery Stephani had eclampsia, which is when preeclampsia causes seizures. Despite facing these complications, their son, Elijah, entered the world, a testament to the power of hope and miracles.

“You feel like you just have this village of people who helped make your dream come true,” says Stephani.

Family plans for their frozen embryos

Stephani and her husband plan to have more children using the six frozen embryos they have left from IVF. Dr. Bareh advised waiting until around 18 months to allow the scarring from her C-section to fully heal before they have another one. Their plan was to get the ball rolling on growing their family even more, with LLU Center for Fertility.

Take it one day at a time

Now, as they cherish the gift of parenthood, Stephani and her husband reflect on their journey. Throughout the process, Stephani would always tell herself, “Take it one day at a time.” It can all be so overwhelming with all the appointments and medications. Stephani also felt that being believers and having faith in God was huge.

“I just don’t know how I would have made it without my faith. I was constantly praying. And I always felt reassured that even if it doesn’t work out, we’re still going to be blessed,” she says.

Stephani has so much gratitude for Dr. Bareh and for the part she played in partnering with God to create their miracle. She says what Dr. Bareh does and her compassion are priceless. They are so thankful for her.

“Dr. Bareh handles her patient load phenomenally, including her eye contact and the amount of time she spends with you, even though you know she’s busy,” says Stephani. “The front desk and all the staff handle everything well. They are all phenomenal.”

Are you struggling to get pregnant? Loma Linda Center for Fertility & IVF has a wide range of solutions for every age & diagnosis, including holistic therapies and advanced treatments such as IVF.

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