Karl and JoAnna Pendergrass had the date circled on their calendar. On a day in early April 2020, the doctors at Emory Reproductive Center planned to transfer a fertilized embryo to jumpstart their dream of starting a family into a reality.
But then the unexpected happened. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most elective medical procedures like the couple’s embryo transfer.
“We thought everything had come to an abrupt stop,” says Karl.
Fortunately for the couple, telehealth allowed fertility treatments to continue, even in the face of a global pandemic.
IVF Journey Begins
The couple’s journey with in vitro fertilization (IVF) began in December 2019.
“We experienced two miscarriages. Moving along that whole process, we wanted to have help expanding our family,” Karl says.
After meeting with the doctors at Emory Reproductive Health, the couple decided IVF was the best course of action. The couple’s first attempt in December 2019 was unsuccessful as the eggs did not fertilize. Doctors performed another egg retrieval and fertilization in February 2020, which resulted in an embryo.
While the original plan was to transfer the embryo in April, the cancellation of elective procedures meant they would be forced to consider other options.
An Introduction to Telehealth
While the couple was disappointed when the embryo transfer was postponed, they stayed the course. Karl and JoAnna participated in telehealth sessions with Jessica Spencer, MD, MSc, the director of Emory University School of Medicine’s Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.
“We really liked that there was a telehealth option to continue our care, even though it couldn’t be in person,” JoAnna says.
The telehealth sessions with Dr. Spencer resulted in comprehensive conversations about the couple’s treatment options.
Despite never having participated in telehealth before, Karl says the process was smooth and felt like an “extension of the desk” in that questions were answered and concerns addressed as they would have been in a face-to-face meeting.
“(Dr. Spencer) took time to listen to our questions, understand our questions and find the best answer that is medically available,” he says.
Disappointments Along the Way
Another egg retrieval and fertilization was performed in June. The procedures resulted in three additional embryos.
Now with four embryos, Karl and JoAnna anticipated an egg transfer procedure in September. However, JoAnna’s lab results indicated it was not the best time to attempt the transfer. And while the couple was again disappointed, they remained hopeful. “Infertility is so common, that my pain is not uncommon,” JoAnna says.
Finally in November, the time was right to attempt an embryo transfer.
Success at Last
Despite a longer-than-anticipated journey, this embryo transfer was successful, and JoAnna became pregnant. The couple plan to welcome a new member of their family late this summer.
“IVF worked for us, and we are absolutely ecstatic. Life has changed a whole lot and for the better,” JoAnna says.
Even though their treatment plan was sidelined temporarily by the pandemic, the Pendergrass family never lost hope, and they credit Dr. Spencer for their IVF success.
“The level of care that we received from Dr. Spencer … was through the roof,” JoAnna says. “She really deeply cares about us.”
For more information about our Emory Connected Care telehealth services, visit emoryhealthcare.org/connectedcare or call 404-778-7777.
About Emory Reproductive Center
The Emory Reproductive Center offers comprehensive fertility services to hundreds of couples each year. Our full range of services includes diagnostics and testing, infertility treatment and experienced care for issues that affect reproductive health. We have been a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) since 2018. Our IVF success rates are consistently and significantly higher than the national average. For 10 years in a row, we have exceeded the national average for women under 35 to achieve a successful pregnancy.
Learn more about the services available at Emory Reproductive Center. To schedule an appointment, call 404-778-3401.