Kapolei couple Steven and Elizabeth Helgen are calling their son a "miracle baby."
Four-month-old Dylan Helgen is the first baby born through the Pacific In Vitro Fertilization Institute using frozen unfertilized eggs. The Helgens’ procedure was done in July 2009, and son Dylan was born on April 6.
"He’s a really good baby," Elizabeth Helgen said yesterday. "He’s very healthy."
The Helgens are among four couples in Hawaii using the institute’s frozen egg program. One couple is currently expecting their baby, and the other two are storing their frozen eggs.
"There was a lot of stress and a lot of emotion," the new mom said, "but we have this miracle that came out of it and we’re really thankful."
The process begins the same way as in-vitro fertilization, retrieving a woman’s eggs by stimulating her ovaries with fertility drugs, said Dr. Thomas Huang, medical director for the institute. About 10 to 20 eggs are collected and put into a vitrification solution that dehydrates them prior to freezing, shrinking them significantly.
The eggs are then placed into a small plastic straw and sealed. Once sealed, the eggs go into a container that is plunged into liquid nitrogen for the freezing process.
"It’s very cold — all thermal molecular motions stop, and the eggs are essentially frozen in time," said Huang. "There is no aging of the eggs, so that means the eggs can be stored for decades."
Huang said the institute is prepared to store patients’ eggs for a few months or years, but those looking to store eggs for five to 10 years would probably have their eggs shipped to a mainland storage facility.
The average cost for one IVF treatment cycle can run from $8,500 to $13,000, and the egg freezing is an additional $825.
Embryo- and sperm-freezing procedures have been available and successful for many years, but freezing had been problematic because ice crystals tended to develop during the process and the eggs’ outer membrane hardened, making fertilization difficult.
When successfully frozen eggs are ready to be used, the process is reversed, Huang said. The straw containing the eggs is removed and thawed in a warm-water bath. The straw is cut, and a syringe is used to get the eggs out. They are "rehydrated" back to normal with the vitrification solution.
The next step is using the fertilization technique known as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection. A single sperm is injected into the thawed egg to fertilize it. The eggs go through an incubation period for a few days to allow the embryos to develop.
"Then it’s a matter of time of selecting the embryos we might want to put back in the patient," Huang said. "Then we sit, wait and hope for the best."
The Helgens sought help through the institute a year ago. "It was scary," said Elizabeth Helgen, 42. "I was unsure of a lot of things. My biggest concern was my age and if this was going to be successful or not."