The recipient of the nation's first uterus transplant said she is extremely grateful to her donor and the donor's family, as well as the doctors who performed the surgery that will give her the chance to become pregnant.
"I want to be open and honest and to share my story," the 26-year-old said during a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic today, less than two weeks after undergoing the first uterus transplant in the U.S.
When she was 16, Lindsey, whose last name was not given, was told that she would never have children. "From that moment on I've prayed that God would allow me the opportunity to experience pregnancy and here we are today at the beginning of that journey," she said from a wheelchair.
Lindsey, who said she is already a mother to three boys adopted through foster care, is the first of 10 patients Cleveland Clinic plans to attempt the procedure on as part of a clinical trial.
Their efforts build on the work done in Sweden, where surgeons have performed nine uterus transplants that have resulted in five successful births so far.
Lindsey will have to wait one year, undergoing regular medical check-ups, before trying to conceive through in vitro fertilization.
"We must remember a uterine transplant is not just about a surgery and about moving a uterus from here to there. It's about having a healthy baby," said Cleveland Clinic surgeon Dr. Rebecca Flyckt.
The hospital has screened more than 250 women to identify 10 who qualify for the experimental procedure. These women were either born without a uterus, had their uterus removed, or have uterine abnormalities that block pregnancy, but still have healthy ovaries and the ability to produce eggs. Using those eggs, doctors freeze six to 10 embryos before the woman undergoes the transplant.
The transplant patients will need to take anti-rejection drugs, which suppress the immune system, following the surgery and throughout their pregnancy. After one or two pregnancies, doctors intend to remove the transplanted uterus so the patient can stop taking the drugs.
Cleveland Clinic's trial uses organs from deceased donors -- as opposed to living donors used in Sweden -- to minimize risk to all parties involved, doctors said.
The specialists noted that the team weighed many ethical questions before deciding to perform the transplant. Some have questioned, for example, if the surgery is worth the risk when there are other options like adoption and surrogacy for women unable to bear children. Unlike patients who receive a donated kidney or heart, the transplant isn't life-saving.
But after taking into account decades of research that has found anti-rejection medications are generally safe during pregnancy, and the reality that adoption and surrogacy may not be a solution for all women, for a variety of reasons, the doctors decided to proceed.
"We hope this gives women better options," said Dr. Ruth Farrell, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Tomasso Falcone, chair of the clinic's Women's Health Institute, described the feeling in the hospital room after the transplant was complete. "This is something we've wanted to do for a long time. The experience was euphoric for us."