Transplant recipient advocates for access to fertility preservation

Posted November 14th, 2018 by Be The Match and filed in News
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In May 2010, Katherine Frega was a high school junior who had spent the past year dealing with a serious illness with no explanation for her symptoms.

When her doctors were finally able to give Katherine and her family a diagnosis, it was not good news. She had Stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

While Katherine said her immediate thoughts were around chemotherapy and what she would need to survive, her father asked one question that has forever impacted her future in a way that the then 17-year-old had not considered.

“The initial diagnosis meeting was such a whirlwind,” she said. “Suddenly, my dad looked at my doctor and asked, ‘How is this going to affect her ability to have children?”’

Although Katherine said fertility preservation was “not on her radar” originally, she understood the stark reality of why she needed to consider it once her first round of chemotherapy was complete and her doctors recommended a blood stem cell transplant.

“We sat down with my BMT doctors,” said Katherine. “And they said, ‘The drugs we have given you already will cause you to go into ovarian failure – if you have not yet. It is just a matter of when.’ That is when we said ok – let’s do this if we have a chance.”

When her doctors told Katherine that fertility preservation was not covered under her mother’s health insurance, the medical team then put her in-touch with the Livestrong Foundation – which paid for some of Katherine’s egg retrieval cost.

“It was still a really big financial barrier for my family,” she said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to make it through the bone marrow transplant.”

With her sister as her donor, Katherine had her first transplant in January 2012. It did not engraft and three months later she had a second transplant. After overcoming graft versus host disease and recovery from her transplant, Katherine is now focused on her future and in her third-year of medical school.

“I was determined to go to college,” she said. “I got out of the hospital and started school two days later at Syracuse University.”

Having her medical team near college made it possible for Katherine’s quick transition into student life and since then, she has never looked back. Now in her third year of medical school, Katherine said she is embracing all that life has to offer.

“I scrubbed in yesterday and delivered two babies,” she said. “To think that this is an option for me, in my career and potentially in being a mother, is really special.”

While Katherine was able to get some financial assistance with her egg retrieval, she does have to pay to an annual fee for cryopreservation. Despite the fee, Katherine said that she is forever grateful her father – who sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2014 – had the realization to ensure her future as a mother.

“I am so happy that when my 19-year-old self could not think about it, my father had the foresight to make this an option for me,” she said. “It gives me a sense of relief when I do want to start a family, and know that he really wanted that for me is a big deal.”

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