Infertility is officially diagnosed as one year of unprotected intercourse without conception. It is estimated that about 90-percent of couples will achieve pregnancy in their first year together, while 95-percent will do so in two years.
Moreover, a year of inability to conceive is generally acceptable for a younger woman who has never been pregnant and is below age 30, but may already be considered too long for women over 35 years as fertility decreases rapidly with maturity.
The above statistics are fairly easy to read and understand, but for a couple dealing with infertility, the figures are both painful and disheartening.
Over the last decade however, more and more couples have become open to in vitro fertilization (IVF), now considered the most common and effective type of assisted reproductive technology (ART) to help women become pregnant. The IVF procedure involves fertilizing an egg outside the body, in a laboratory dish, and thereafter implanting it in a woman’s uterus. Following IVF treatment many couples are able to get pregnant without any fertility additional treatments.
In 2012 an estimated five million children had been born worldwide using IVF and other assisted reproduction techniques. In the Philippines, noted Obstetrician-Gynecologist Gregorio Pastorfide is considered the pioneer in IVF via his Victory Group, which he first opened in Hong Kong as Victory A.R.T. Ltd in 1998.
Noting that many Filipino couples would fly out to Hong Kong to consult with him, and with the excellent outcome of IVF patients at the center, Pastorfide eventually decided to expand to the Philippines despite expecting controversy over offering assisted reproduction techniques.
Over time, the Victory Group’s success in helping many Filipino couples begin building families, Pastorfide—whose two sets of twins were conceived via IVF—overcame the initial hurdles of setting up the center in Manila, and as Medical Director of Victory A.R.T. Laboratory Philippines, Inc. thrives in bringing more meaning to the lives of husbands and wives.
With his valuable experience in IVF and assisted reproduction techniques, Pastorfide is eager to pass them on in order to continue Victory Group’s steadfast goal to help as many couples realize their dreams of raising a family today and into the future. His practice has therefore become more meaningful to him as well with the entry of his daughter, medical doctor Gia Pastorfide, as the youngest infertility specialist in the center. At 35 years old, Gia impressively holds a specialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
She obtained her pre-medical degree in BS Psychology and graduated magna cum laude at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City in 2004. She secured her Medical degree in 2008, and thereafter took her residency at in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2012 at the Philippine General Hospital.
Outside the country, she went for a year-long fellowship training in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (with focus on In-Vitro Fertilization and Minimally Invasive Surgery) in the National University Hospital of Singapore; with another year of fellowship training in Reproductive Medicine at the University of Tokyo Hospital in Japan.
In a sit-down interview late September, father and daughter explained to The Manila Times how Victory A.R.T Laboratory Philippines continues to assist and provide infertility solutions to a new generation, using state-of-the-art equipment and an ever-growing and adapting medical team in the lead up to its second decade of practice.
“Think of IVF as a short cut,” offered Gia, who is officially an assistant medical doctor at Victory today. “Block tubes are first indication for IVF, and it’s just along the way that women realize ovulatory problems. For example, there are women who ovulate only once a year, and they are perfect candidates for IVF. Others who come to us may also have unexplained infertility because their tests will show that neither of them have any problems. So using this short cut, they can be pregnant.”
According to her father, since opening Victory in the Philippines, they work with an average of 200 IVF cases per year. These are besides additional fertility services including male and female infertility tests, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), Cryopreservation, Frozen Embryo Transfer, Blastocyst Transfer and Culture, Testicular Sperm Extraction/Aspirate (TESA), and Assisted Hatching.
“Even if a woman is older in years, she can still get pregnant and give birth because she has a uterus. But it will be more difficult for her to do so if she has hypertension or diabetes which is common in their age,” Gia related when asked about the ideal conditions for IVF treatment.
A very interesting branch of medicine with the development assisted reproductive techniques paying close attention to changing preferences and patterns in people’s lives, Pastorfide rejoined the conversation and talked about women’s option to freeze their eggs in their laboratory for when they are ready to start a family.
“We have egg banks at Victory say for women who feel they need more time to find a partner in life or if they have to prioritize their careers to start with,” he explained. “It’s called social freezing.”
As the doctor said, social freezing or Oocyte (Egg) Cryopreservation gives women the possibility to store eggs at a younger age for use in the future when they are ready to raise a family. More than this, however, Oocyte freezing can also be used in medical emergencies to women who are newly diagnosed with cancer or even just for personal reasons.
“To date, there are over 2,000 births worldwide as a result of egg freezing,” Pastorfide continued. “We’ve been doing this for the last several years, and the reason why the technology is very recent is because it was very difficult in the past to freeze the eggs. You see, when you freeze them and thaw them, the embryo for transplant had a higher chance of dieing. But now, there is such a procedure where the eggs are thawed in a special kind of glass to lower the risk. When we thaw the embryo in that procedure it will stay alive,” Pastorfide explained.
After sharing some of the new breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technology, the interview tackled the cost of such treatments in present day. Although easily available for infertile couples today, may believe IVF is not a realistic option for them because of cost.
“The first time we started, even the younger patients’ expenses would go as high as a million pesos. But when we opened Victory here in the Philippines, IVF became more affordable to more Filipinos, which is the very reason why I wanted to bring the technology here in the first place,” Pastorfide conveyed.
“In the States today, IVF treatment costs between $10,000 to $15,000; here, it costs P300,000. Those whose fees go beyond that mark are usually older patients who need to take more medicine for IVF to succeed.”
He continued, “It is the medicine that makes the treatment expensive and even many Americans patients complain about it. Unfortunately, if medicine is already expensive in the States, it is sure to become even more expensive here because medicine is taxed by government, unlike in other countries where they are subsidized.”
Pastorfide, however, happily shared that Victory is working hard at further bringing down costs of IVF procedures with the help of his daughter Gia.
“She brings with her new learning from her fellowships in Singapore and Japan and is developing a much easier protocol for IVF that should call for less expense,” he proudly said.
To conclude, the father-daughter tandem reiterated their commitment to help as many women and as many couples as they can to realize their dreams of having children “in a state-of-the-art fertility treatment amid an empathetic and caring environment.”
“Our goal is one with the patients—to deliver a healthy baby from conception to birth with our staff of highly trained and dedicated reproductive specialists, embryologists, and fertility nurses, who all understand the challenges that each patient undergoes,” Gia succinctly ended.
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Editor’s note: Given the continuing advances in IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies, the center’s website IVFVictoryPhilippines.Com take care to inform possible patients that “assisted reproductive therapies are not an exact science.” They further suggest: “Women and couples attempting to become pregnant are advised to manage their expectations for success, since every infertile patient has unique challenges to face. Overall, the success rates for a second attempt at IVF are about the same on average for the first. Learning from the first failed IVF cycle and making adjustments to maximize success for the second in-vitro fertilization attempt can increase the chance for a successful second attempt at IVF.”
Victory A.R.T. Laboratory Philippines Inc. is located at Unit D-1 Medical Plaza Makati Amorsolo cor. Dela rosa St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.