An impossible dream comes true in Peoria

DeWayne Bartels
Melanie Gayton, a Chicago woman who found success in getting pregnant from a North Peoria doctor, is surrounded by her family — son, Logan, 8, husband, Dan, and son, Jackson, 5

Peoria holds a special place in Melanie Gayton’s heart and womb.

At 39, Gayton, a Chicago woman, is pregnant with her third child — something that many in the medical world told her was impossible.

“We started trying to have this baby at 35. I had my first two sons at 31 and 33 years of age,” Gayton said.

This baby is due July 3. Gayton said she does not know the baby’s sex and is going to wait to find out what gender the baby is until he or she is born.

A North Peoria doctor made what seemed like her impossible dream come true.

Trying

After a period of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, Gayton decided

some professional help was in order. With a little help from her friends, Gayton embarked on what would become a journey of frustration.

Gayton went to her first fertility doctor in the Chicago area.

She chose him out of convenience. Two efforts at intra-uterine insemination there failed. 

“I knew I was not going to go to in vitro fertilization treatment with this doctor due to his poor bedside manner and through poor references of my friends. The intra-uterine inseminations were performed via nurses and a physician assistant,” Gayton said. 

Through references of friends and success stories, she tried another Chicago doctor.

“This doctor was a part of a very large practice that performed 200 in vitro fertilization cycles per month. We failed at two at this practice,” she said.

“This doctor recommended that our next step should be to use a donor egg as our ‘unexplained infertility’ was most likely due to ‘old eggs’ of my own. I just couldn’t accept that answer. I had my first two sons without any fertility procedures or problems. I was not overweight, did not smoke or drink and was in shape.”

Friends came forward again recommending a doctor in Colorado. 

“This doctor was sure he could successfully treat me, but it would require that I live in Colorado for three weeks and this doctor was not covered at all by my insurance and any procedure would be entirely out of our pocket,” Gayton said.

“So, given that I had fantastic insurance as long as I saw who was approved via my insurance, we decided that going to this doctor was not in the best interest of our family.” 

Another friend referred her to yet another doctor in the Chicago area. 

“After carefully reviewing my chart — now over 100 pages long — this doctor told me my chances of getting pregnant was less than 19 percent using my own eggs and that using a donor egg was my best option,” Gayton said.

“The chances of me getting pregnant with a donor egg were around 60 percent.”

That was not in Gayton’s plans.  

“I told him that I’d prefer to adopt, and he said many of his patients fail to get picked by a person who wants to put her child up for adoption and they come right back to him to use a donor egg,” she said.

Gayton was not deterred.

She went that very night to her first adoption meeting. She and her husband, Dan, were told they were an “undesirable” couple because her husband was 42, and that anyone over 40 is undesirable, as the women giving up their babies are mostly in their late teens and early 20s. 

Gayton said she was desperate.

“I called the last doctor and asked to see all their available ‘donors’ and actually chose one donor that I thought resembled me. I decided to go and look at her picture and put this donor on hold,” Gayton said. 

“Again, another friend intervened and said ‘Don’t give up; a friend of ours had success with this new doctor in Peoria.’” 

Peoria bound

Gayton checked and found this doctor —  Dr. Natalie Schultz from the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine — was covered 100 percent by her insurance. 

“I set up an appointment with her the next day. This was my first female doctor and the only doctor that didn’t just explain away our problem as ‘unexplained’ or due to ‘old eggs,’” Gayton said. 

“I knew from our first phone consultation that she was different. She asked questions that no other doctor asked, such as: ‘When you go for greater than three hours without food, how do you feel?’; ‘tell me about your migraine headaches’; ‘when do you get them’; ‘how often do you exercise’; ‘are you an optimist or a pessimist?’”

Gayton said Schultz gathered in-depth information about her family’s medical history. Schultz had Gayton explain her fertility struggles. 

“I can’t remember the rest, but she was incredibly thorough. I made an appointment a few days later to see her personally so she could check my follicles during a particular time in my cycle and she had me do a whole host of blood tests,” Gayton said. 

“Basically, she found that my blood glucose was abnormal and that I was the opposite of a diabetic and that I had mild hypothyroidism. She also diagnosed me with polycysticovarian syndrome for lean women.” 

Schultz prescribed medicine to get Gayton’s thyroid working correctly and to stabilize her blood glucose level.

“She also said I was to stop running, as it raised my core body temperature and that was bad for my fertility,” Gayton said.

Schultz eliminated soy from Gayton’s diet and prescribed a host of vitamins. 

After three months of this regimen, Gayton was to proceed with her third in vitro fertilization cycle. It failed. 

“(Schultz) said she would not give up on me. I told her that this next cycle was my last cycle covered by my insurance and that mentally and physically I could barely do this fourth in vitro fertilization, but I would. I believed she could help me,” Gayton said. 

Schultz was very hands on, Gayton said.

She said Schultz performed each ultrasound herself.

“This was different from all the other places I went,” she said.

The other practices were much larger, so they had technicians or nurses perform each ultrasound, Gayton said.

Happy birthday

“Anyway, Dr. Shultz told me that she was like a detective with me and that she knew she was getting closer to solving our problem,” Gayton said. 

“She prescribed one last blood test that tested whether my natural killer cells were attacking my embryos and whether I had an auto immune issue.

The test did turn up positive for elevated natural killer cell activity and elevated reproductive immunophenotype.

Her body’s auto immune issues were causing it to reject the embryo and the embryo could not attach to the uterine wall.

So, prior to another attempt, Gayton was put on IV medication to address the auto immune issue and a blood thinner to help an embryo attach to the uterine wall. 

“The day before my birthday, we found out we were having a baby,” Gayton said.

Trials

The good news had been delivered.

Still, heartache lay ahead.

After the positive pregnancy test, Gayton went in for a six-week check-up.

An internal ultrasound checked for a heartbeat.

There was no heartbeat.

The doctor sent Gayton on to the hospital for a higher resolution ultrasound and a more thorough exam.

“After little hope and three hours of anguish,” Gayton said, “the hospital was able to thankfully find a strong heartbeat.” 

But, that was only part of the price paid.

“The three-hour drive was very draining, especially when I drove back and forth from my town to Peoria almost every other day for almost two weeks,” she said.

Gayton said she has endured the situation through the help of her sisters, husband, very close friends and lots of prayer.

The experience, Gayton said, was very hard on her older son, Logan, 8. 

“He thought I was sick because I went to the doctor so much. He also had stomach pain every time we started an in vitro fertilization cycle. His pediatrician attributed his stomach pain to stress. As soon as I became pregnant, his stomach pain stopped,” Gayton said.

“My 5-year-old son, Jackson, was shuffled so many times to my sister’s home and friend’s houses while I was away in Peoria. My relationship with my husband was strained several times because of how often I was away at doctor appointments, my mood swings from the high hormones that I was on was not enjoyable to him. The children’s care was on his shoulders, while I was on bed rest after each in vitro fertilization embryo transfer. He was nervous about hurting me when he had to give me shots, and you combine this all with his stressful full-time job.”

Optimist

Gayton said despite her attack of pessimism before her last attempt, she harbored high hopes when she sought help in Peoria.

“After my first conversation with Dr. Schultz I finally had hope as opposed to making a heart-wrenching decision as to whether or not to do a donor egg — which is not widely accepted by me, my family and even the general public — or to adopt. These were my only options with the other doctors,” Gayton said. 

“I know the only reason I found success in Peoria was because of Dr. Schultz and her entire team. I believed Dr. Schultz when she told me that each time she worked with me, she was able to get that much closer to solving our infertility puzzle.”

Gayton said, despite having two children, she and her husband wanted another.

She said the heartache the family endured was worthwhile.

“When you decide to have children, everyone’s journey to a complete family is different. Dan and I realized that our family and journey was not complete. You just know,” Gayton said. 

“I knew that when I held this baby in my arms that all the doctor’s visits, all the needles, all the mental and physical pain and all the hours spent away from my family would all fade away.”

Gayton said she is not the only Chicagoan who will likely seek help in Peoria. Gayton said she is spreading the word.

“Just today (March 10), my son’s pre-kindergarten teacher asked for my doctor’s name,” Gayton said, “because a friend of hers heard my story and asked for my doctor’s info.”