'We were so close': Fertility treatments on hold for patients during pandemic
VANCOUVER -- March 15 was the day Rose Da Silva of Victoria was supposed to begin an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle, but then the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly changed everything.
"We didn't end up starting, because I believe they made the call to not start any new IVF or IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycles," Da Silva said, referring to directives from the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society. "So, we were just sort of cancelled."
Da Silva is one of many fertility clinic patients across Canada who've had their long-awaited treatments postponed as a result of the pandemic.
Clinics have temporarily closed, and have been directed to offer appointments and consultations over the phone or other means, rather than in person, for now.
"It's definitely emotionally devastating, but it's a weird kind of emotionally devastating, because you can understand the clinic and the health ministry, the government, everyone who's making that call," Da Silva told CTV News Vancouver.
Da Silva began trying to conceive in early 2017, and ended up having exploratory surgery for endometriosis the following year.
After a year-and-a-half wait to see a fertility clinic doctor on Vancouver Island, she became a patient at Olive Fertility Centre in Metro Vancouver late last year.
"If you've been trying to have a child for three years, three-and-a-half years, and kind of run the medical gambit, to have another obstacle thrown in your way is definitely tough," Da Silva said. "We spent so long trying to get here, and we were so close."
Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine patient Amanda Hollywood received a scheduled frozen embryo transfer the day before her clinic closed.
"I was sending emails and I was calling back to back, saying, 'Please don't cancel my transfer,'" Hollywood said, adding she feels grateful the procedure went ahead when it did.
She said her heart goes out to women who can't proceed with their treatments right now.
"We all have like a little sisterhood," Hollywood said. "For somebody who struggles with IVF and fertility, you don't know when or if you can get pregnant, so for somebody who's helping you get pregnant, all of a sudden they can't help you anymore, it's like you don't know where to turn to, you don't know what's next."
Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine co-director and partner Dr. Caitlin Dunne said it was a very difficult decision to have to close and suspend treatments.
The only exception for starting new cycles would be urgent cases involving fertility preservation prior to a patient starting cancer treatment.
"I have so much empathy and compassion for the patients who had their treatments stopped, especially those who were stopped right before they started or even some mid-cycle. It's absolutely devastating to those patients," Dunne said.
"Essentially, it has less to do with the concern about pregnancy at this time, and more to do with diverting all our resources, whether that is our facility, our PPEs (personal protective equipment), our nurses, our doctors, to free up those personnel and those equipment from elective procedures so that they could be dedicated to battling this pandemic."
Dunne said they remain on stand-by to help, or provide equipment, if needed.
"I would want my patients to know that we understand, especially for women who have medical conditions like low ovarian reserve, or advancing reproductive age, time is of the essence. We understand that months can make a difference, and we are advocating for them every day," Dunne said.
"So as things progress and we get an understanding of what the health-care system capacity looks like, we're hoping that if we all do what we can to flatten the curve, we'll be able to open sooner than later, but right now, it's a day to day basis."
Dunne added patients are being advised they can continue to try for pregnancy naturally unless they have an active COVID-19 infection.
"Fortunately COVID-19 doesn't seem to be the type of infection that specifically targets the fetus," Dunne said, and added while there is still not a lot of data about pregnancy and the virus, the information that is available now is "cautiously reassuring."
Da Silva said she's also involved with a group called IVF for B.C., which has been advocating for provincial funding for treatments that can cost about $15,000 per cycle. She had a meeting scheduled with Finance Minster Carole James, her MLA, but said now that will likely have to wait.
"One in six families in BC have infertility. A lot of the families can't afford any kind of medical treatment and it's an issue of access and cost," Da Silva said, and added Ontario has implemented funded cycles.
In the meantime, she'll be waiting to find out when she can begin IVF again.
"I have all of the injectable medications just sitting in my refrigerator, collecting dust, and I had started to worry because those have an expiry date and they cost a lot of money," Da Silva said. "My heart and my prayers go out to everyone who's dealing with this."