Being an organ donor means you can give someone the gift of life after your death. And in the case of a Brazilian woman who donated her uterus, it meant giving another woman the gift of motherhood.
For the first time in America, a baby has been born after growing in a transplanted uterus of a deceased donor, thanks to the Cleveland Clinic. As CNN reports, a baby girl was born in June after her mother received a uterus transplant from a non-living donor.
The mom, who is in her mid-30s, was born without a uterus. The process took more than a year and after her baby was born via c-section she opted to have the transplanted uterus removed (which makes sense, as the transplant requires the mother to take anti-rejection drugs).
The treatment begins with a round of IVF, where eggs are harvested and fertilized. Then, the uterus transplant is performed, followed by doses of immunosuppressive drugs before an embryo can be implanted.
This case is a first in the U.S., but not the first in the world.
The first baby born after a uterus transplant from a deceased donor is now a toddler. That birth, which happened in Brazil, made worldwide headlines in December 2018 after the details of the gestation and birth (which happened the previous year) were published in the medical journal Lancet.
The story is made headlines around the world because while babies have been born after uterus transplants from living donors before, this is the first time a transplant from a deceased donor has been successful.
This is huge, because as the doctors behind the transplant note, this opens "a path to healthy pregnancy for all women with uterine factor infertility, without need of living donors or live donor surgery."
The donor was a 45-year-old who died from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke. She had three children, all of whom were born vaginally. This made her a good candidate as a uterus donor.
Her uterus was transplanted into a 32-year-old woman who was born without a uterus. The Associated Press reports that the woman (a psychologist) was initially apprehensive about the transplant according to the transplant team's lead doctor, Dr. Dani Ejzenberg, but is now living proof that this can be done.
"This was the most important thing in her life," Ejzenberg said. "Now she comes in to show us the baby and she is so happy."
The 32-year-old did a round of IVF four months before the transplant, which resulted in several embryos. The were cryopreserved, and seven months after the transplant the woman became pregnant after the first single embryo transfer.
The pregnancy went well and at 36 weeks the woman welcomed a baby girl by c-section. The doctors removed the transplanted uterus at the same time so that the mother could stop taking anti-rejection drugs.
These success stories are certainly encouraging for researchers. While a few transplants from living donors have resulted in births, being able to accept organs from deceased donors would make more uteruses available.
While organ donation usually saves lives, in these cases, it helped create a new one and gave families a life they thought they might never have.
[A version of this post was originally published December 5, 2018. It has been updated.]