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HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: New procedure gives cancer patients options for family planning

Posted at 6:32 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 09:41:16-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In October 2020, a Muskegon County High School freshman got a devastating diagnosis. Maddie MacLachlan had a tumor the size of a milk jug in her chest, and it was non-Hodgkins' lymphoma.

She had no time to wait before starting chemo, and a risk of that aggressive treatment plan, infertility.

Doctors at DeVos Children's Hospital are using a new surgery to help patients like Maddie have hope for the future.

In May of 2021 Maddie, found out she was in remission. She's getting back to enjoying all her favorite things, friends and family, pets, volleyball, and AP classes.

"I feel awesome. I'm doing great right now having tons of fun getting to drive around, hang out with my friends do normal teenage stuff that I couldn't do last year," said MacLachlan.

Before her diagnosis, the bright-eyed 16-year-old didn't think much about family planning.

"And that was one of the hardest things because like, I can get through that, the whole chemo thing they told me. You can make it you're going to live it's going to be good, but then you might not be able to have kids, that's something I really want. And it was tough," said MacLachlan.

Oncologist Dr. Allison Close said Maddie was an ideal candidate for a new surgery that provides options for cancer patients at the highest risk of infertility in the future.

"We actually just started a new program here called ovarian tissue cryopreservation. Ovarian tissue cryopreservation, what that is, is we take an ovary, and we are able to freeze that and then re-implant it in the future when a woman is wanting to get pregnant," said Dr. Close, Adolescent and Young Adult, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

"It was such a painful recovery because it's through the abdominal muscles. So doing anything sitting up talking, breathing, oh my gosh, the ending so bad," said MacLachlan.

With one ovary still intact, the other is now cryo-preserved and sent to Pittsburgh.

"You can save it for whenever you want to have kids, you might be able to get pregnant on your own with the one damaged ovary you still have from the chemo, you don't know. And then if not, you can have it put back in. Or you could adopt or do IVF, or whatever we want," said MacLachlan.

"In the future, they're actually able to either sew those tissue, those pieces of strips of tissue onto the existing nonfunctioning ovary, or even into the abdominal pelvic cavity. So, it's, again, very, very cutting edge," said Dr. Close.

Another fertility option for cancer patients is egg freezing. Similar to an IVF cycle, egg freezing takes time. Maddie didn't have that time, she needed to start chemo as soon as possible. Egg freezing can also only be done in young women who have gone through puberty.

"Ovarian tissue cryopreservation has been done on patients who are as young as like six months old up to, you know, someone in their 30s or so. So, it's really been a wide range of patients that can get this procedure. Here. It's been mostly, you know, we've been mostly kids, teenagers," said Dr. Close.

Cancer took a lot from Maddie, what it can't take is her hope for a family in the future.

"But I don't know I'm hopeful that this cryopreservation will truly help me have kids," said MacLachlan.

All those options are available for adult women, as well as children and teens.

There aren't as many fertility options for young men undergoing chemo. Sperm banking for boys who have gone through puberty is one option. DeVos just performed its first testicular tissue cryopreservation. That is still considered experimental because there have been no live births yet from the technology.