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Tiny baby sleeping on belly

Starting a family, against the odds

Denise Wong had survived breast cancer treatment at 27. Ten years later, she and her husband wanted to have a child. Her treatment had made that unlikely, but her fertility team at Stanford found a way.

In 2016, when Denise Wong and her husband, Adolfo Polanco, started talking about having a baby, they weren't sure it was possible.

Ten years earlier, at age 27, Wong had undergone treatment for breast cancer, and had been in remission ever since. She was happy to be alive and newly married to the man who had been at her side through treatment. Still, it was hard to accept that her treatment had made it unlikely, if not impossible, that Wong could ever conceive a child.

But hope has a way of pushing up through the impossible. Wong and Polanco found the Stanford Fertility and Reproductive Health Services, and began to explore their options.

In my story for Stanford Children's Health, I spoke with Steven Nakajima, MD, director of the Stanford IVF Outreach Program, who, despite the odds, helped Wong and Polanco become a family of three:

Stanford prides itself on taking the most unusual and challenging cases.

A lot of times, people will come to us because they've already been to three or four other clinicians who won't take their case, either because of their weight or because they have too many medical risk factors... We don't have arbitrary cut-off points where we say we won't take care of someone because we're afraid it will decrease our pregnancy rates. Our group really embraces the fact that we try to give everyone a chance.

Wong's situation wasn't unusual, he said, but her odds of conceiving were low, Nakajima said.

"Dr. Nakajima said that my chances of having a baby naturally were about 8 percent or less per month," Wong said. "With intra-uterine insemination, about 10 percent. The success rate if we went through IVF would be slightly higher but still low, about 15 percent. So, the thinking was, why not jump to the most aggressive path?"

The most aggressive path -- proceeding with just a single, healthy, fertilized egg -- turned out to be the right one for Wong and Polanco, who welcomed their baby boy in February 2018. Wong's story reflects the determination, patience and teamwork it took to help their family become a reality.

Nakajima commented:

It's really something. We knew we weren't going to have a lot of chances to make this work, but the fact that she had this one embryo that made it through -- it was just the perfect storm for her.

Photo courtesy of Denise Wong and Adolfo Polanco

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