Lindsey McFarland, the first U.S. recipient of an experimental uterus transplant, said she’s hopeful even though she had complications that resulted in her new uterus being removed less than two weeks after she received it.
“It’s gonna be a while before I work through everything, just because I had such high hopes,” McFarland said in an interview with NBC News that aired Monday.
“You lose more than just the uterus, you lose a lot of the hopes and dreams you had for the future,” Lindsey’s husband, Blake McFarland, told NBC.
In February, 26-year-old Lindsey McFarland, whose last name was previously not released, became the first patient in the United States to receive a uterus transplant. Cleveland Clinic doctors transplanted the organ from a deceased donor during a nine-hour surgery.
McFarland, a mother of three boys who were adopted through the foster system, spoke to reporters in March, less than two weeks after undergoing the experimental procedure.
“I was 16 and was told I would never have children and from that moment on, I’ve prayed that God would allow me that opportunity to experience pregnancy. And here we are today at the beginning of that journey,” she said while sitting in a wheelchair with her husband standing behind her.
Cleveland Clinic transplant surgeon Dr. Andreas Tzakis said McFarland developed a fever later that day that led to emergency surgery to remove the uterus. “We were watching her very closely. This presented in such an insidious way that it was a surprise.”
A few days later, the hospital announced that McFarland suffered a complication that led to the removal of the newly transplanted uterus. It said no other information was available at the time.
On Friday the Cleveland Clinic said a yeast infection caused the transplant to fail.
“The complication was an infection with a fungus called candida albicans, which is ubiquitous in a lot of parts of the body, particularly female organs,” Tzakis said Friday. “Normally it resides in people without causing a problem. If someone is immunocompromised it can cause an infection,” he said. That infection then compromised the blood supply to the uterus.
In spite of this, the couple said they are excited about the future, including the possibility of expanding their family. “Obviously we have the embryos that we got from IVF and my mom has actually offered to be a surrogate,” Lindsey told NBC.
Before receiving the uterus, Lindsey underwent in vitro fertilization so she and Blake could bank six to 10 embryos. Doctors planned to wait at least a year before transferring one of the embryos into Lindsey’s transplanted uterus, allowing time to reduce the dosage of anti-rejection medication she was taking.
Tzakis said the hospital voluntarily put the clinical trial, which hopes to enroll 10 patients, on hold while the team makes some changes to the protocol to prevent the same complication from happening again. These include the use of antifungal medications and some adjustments to the technique, he said.
Cleveland Clinic was the first to perform the procedure in the United States, but doctors in Sweden have performed the surgery using living donors, in some cases relatives, in nine women since 2012. There have been five successful live births. Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital are working on similar clinical trials.
McFarland is doing well, Tzakis said. She “is a wonderful young lady, with a very powerful personality, an excellent family and able to handle this extremely well. She is a pioneer and her heart is all in.”
McFarland told NBC she hopes, “one or several of these women will have that bundle of joy at the end.”
“We can always say that we gave it a shot and even if they just learned something from her procedure that it was a success,” Blake McFarland told NBC.