Austin fertility center providing access to high-tech, affordable treatment

Jason and Kate Seale with their baby Juniper. (Courtesy: Seale Family)
Jason and Kate Seale with their baby Juniper. (Courtesy: Seale Family)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kate and Jason Seale’s love story began by chance at a fundraising event in Austin.

“We saw each other at the first bar, asked about each other at the second bar, and at the third bar we were talking,” remembers Kate.

From then on, they talked every single day, each fitting perfectly into the other’s plan. After they got married, the next part of the plan was to grow their family.

“We did meet later in life so we knew that we weren’t going to have a lot of time if we wanted to start a family, so we weren’t going to put things off quite as long as we may have,” said Jason.

Kate and Jason Seale on their wedding day. (Courtesy: Seale Family)
Kate and Jason Seale on their wedding day. (Courtesy: Seale Family)

But after six months of trying to get pregnant, they knew something was wrong. The Seales’ saw a fertility specialist and learned they’d have to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) if they wanted to have a baby.

“You can feel isolated at that time and think, ‘Why me?’ But you definitely learn quickly you’re not alone in that struggle,” said Jason.

Leading health officials estimate infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Often times it’s the woman who feels pressure to change her diet or lifestyle, but men account for up to half of all infertility cases.

Dr. Kaylen Silverberg, Medical Director at the Texas Fertility Center (TFC) and Ovation Fertility in Austin, says there are many factors that contribute to infertility.

“The main factors are women not ovulating correctly, or not ovulating at all. Problems with sperm production, sperm function, blocked Fallopian tubes, endometriosis, issues with the uterus like fibroid tumors, polyps or scar tissue,” said Dr. Silverberg.

He says only 25 to 30 percent of couples that come see him have to undergo IVF. The rest are able to get pregnant with less aggressive and expensive methods.

Saving Money on Treatments

The center has ongoing studies aiming to help couples get pregnant faster and more affordably. Because many employer’s insurance plans don’t cover fertility treatments, the center’s program is built around getting patients access to the latest technology, for less money.

One study looks at the advances of preimplantation genetic screening, which means testing the embryo to make sure its chromosomes are normal before being transferred into the woman. Only one, healthy embryo is then transferred, essentially eliminating the risk of twins, triplets or quadruplets.

“Raises pregnancy rates, lowers miscarriage rates, cuts the time significantly to pregnancy, and we’ve demonstrated here that it’s cost-effective,” said Dr. Silverberg.

They’re also testing incubators that use time-lapse photography to monitor embryos. It provides accurate results with less time and manpower.

“As difficult as this journey was,
I’d go through it again in a heartbeat.”

Patients can apply to take part in the studies, saving money on treatments.

“All of this is available to couples right here in Austin, they don’t have to go to New York or Los Angeles or Paris to get the latest and the greatest, they can really get that right here in Austin,” said Dr. Silverberg.

Basic IVF can range from $13,000 to $20,000. An embryo biopsy can tack on another $5,000 to $6,000. In an embryo biopsy, some cells are removed and tested for any gene defects.

“Not only can we eradicate disease that have been involved in families for generations, in one cycle we can completely eliminate those diseases forever, but we can also raise the pregnancy rate significantly. We can reduce the miscarriage rate pretty close to zero, and can eliminate multiple pregnancies,” said Dr. Silverberg.

Tech companies with homes in Austin like Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are leading the way adding fertility treatments to insurance plans. Because whether a couple suffers from infertility or a woman wants to delay pregnancy, the issue affects millions.

trak-grey-engine-on-black
Trak Male Fertility Testing System. The FDA-approved device tests and tracks sperm count, letting you know if your count is low, moderate or optimal.

“You’re not alone in this journey and I think that’s what people need to realize,” says Jason.

Couples also have access to more high-tech at-home fertility options, like the Trak Male Fertility Testing System. The FDA-approved device tests and tracks sperm count, letting you know if your count is low, moderate or optimal. It also pairs with an app to give users personalized feedback.

“Anything that raises awareness about infertility and facilitates a conversation, we are totally in favor of. This is a fascinating device,” said Dr. Silverberg.

But Dr. Silverberg says simply knowing your sperm count is just one part of a complicated equation. The device cannot tell a man if his sperm is alive or dead, if the sperm is swimming, or if it’s chromosomally normal.

A Trak spokesperson says the device is not meant to replace clinical semen analysis or seeing a doctor, but rather to help men test earlier in the fertility process and track progress. The company also hopes it will help men make better lifestyle choices as they go through this journey.

Because fertility treatments can be such a financial burden, a Texas nonprofit gives grants to couples struggling to start a family. The Fertility Foundation of Texas awards one time grants to qualifying uninsured infertility patients in central Texas. They also work to create public awareness that infertility is a treatable medical condition. Since 2014, they’ve awarded $100,000 total to 10 families in Texas.

If you’re not eligible for fertility treatment grants, there are other options to try and keep costs down.

TFC recommends asking a center about its success rate, so that you’re less likely to undergo multiple procedures. Some clinics will also offer discount programs for fertility medications, or financing options. At the very least, you should ask for a second opinion because only a fraction of patients with infertility issues need IVF, and you could be a good fit for a less invasive treatment.

Welcome, Juniper

It would be two-and-a-half years before the Seales’ were able to have their baby girl, Juniper, who just turned 1 years old. After suffering several miscarriages, they were able to conceive through IVF.

Jason and Kate Seale with their baby Juniper. (Courtesy: Seale Family)
Jason and Kate Seale with their baby Juniper. (Courtesy: Seale Family)

“As difficult as this journey was, I’d go through it again in a heartbeat, knowing what the end result would be,” said Jason.

They say they’ve become more open to talking about their struggles after learning how many other couples are going through the same thing. By sharing their story, the Seales’ hope to help others in their journey.

“I really think the more that this community can be there for each other, and listen to the hard days and be there to give the hugs when they’re needed,” said Kate. “Hopefully, we can get a few more people through the journey in a better place.”

Support groups across Texas offer men and women a chance to connect and get support from others struggling with similar issues.

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