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ONE IN A BILLION BABY; Cancer left John sterile but amazing medical breakthrough means couple have their...

ANCER victim John Davey has beaten incredible odds - and is about to become the proud father of the rarest baby in Britain.

Even the top doctor heading the team who battled to give him and his partner a normal family life has called the pregnancy a miracle.

For the average man releases around 500 million sperm each time he has sex - but John had only TEN when doctors operated on him because chemotherapy treatment for cancer as a child left him to all intents and purposes sterile.

He joked: "Someone said to me once that the average man has enough sperm at any one time to repopulate the British Isles three times over.

"I haven't got enough to fill the football stadium at Accrington Stanley!"

But behind the smiles lies an incredible tale of heartbreak, hope and determination. Finally thanks to pioneering surgery, doctors were able to remove his few sperm and fertilise eggs from his partner Josephine Benyon.

And now the devoted couple are just 12 weeks away from the birth of the child they thought they would never have.

The odds against the couple conceiving without the revolutionary procedure were more than a billion-to-one.

Delighted John, 38, speaking exclusively to the Sunday People, said: "No-one can know what it is like, the moment when we learned Josephine was pregnant. You have to have had the heartache, so much pain, and the waiting. Our dream was to have our own child and so many times it seemed impossible.

"When the test was positive we both collapsed in tears, sobbing and sobbing. It was the biggest relief in the world."

Doctors at a specialist clinic in London's St George's Hospital discovered John's sperm count was the lowest they'd ever monitored.

Medically, he was sterile - until the doctors decided to use a revolutionary new process.

And in one of the first operations of its kind in the world, skilful surgeons used a new technique known as ICSI - intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

His few sperm were removed surgically and incubated to find out which were the healthiest - and these were each injected directly into one of Josephine's eggs. Then 15 days later the dream came true - a pregnancy test proved positive.

The couple from Sutton, Surrey, had been trying desperately for three years to start a family. But, amazingly, John, did not discover the truth about his infertility until last year. His mother finally revealed the reason behind their heartache. She told him how as a child he had been treated with chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Disease - cancer of the lymph glands - which wrecked his sperm production.

Until then John had been devastated by his failure to make 33-year-old Josephine pregnant.

"I couldn't understand it," he said. "You never even think about not being able to have a child until it happens. Of course I presumed it was something to do with Jo - I suppose I was being all macho about it.

"Then mum told me that some little scars on my neck were from operations after I'd suffered cancer in my lymph glands. It all happened when I was 14, and at that age you don't really ask what's wrong. Mum had thought it better not to tell me I had had cancer. She thought I'd have trouble with it when I was young. All her intentions were for the best and she had no idea my sperm production might be damaged.

"When the cancer didn't come back, she just forgot about it. It was only when I was in an accident on holiday last year she told doctors my medical history and then I found out all about it."

Self-employed computer software trainer John and Josephine had known each other for four years when they decided they were ready for a baby. They never dreamed there'd be a problem.

They had always thought marriage would come first but after discovering their problems conceiving decided they could only afford the fertility treatment. The wedding would have to wait.

Josephine said: "We had to get our priorities right. It was the baby first and then one day, when we have enough money, we'll have a wedding."

Their four-bedroom Edwardian home, set in a quarter of an acre of land and bordered by woodland, is a perfect place for a child to grow up. It has a large patio, French windows off the dining room and plenty of lawn and trees.

They moved in a year ago - but redecoration plans have been put on hold until the baby arrives.

Josephine said: "We moved from a smaller house when we thought children really might be an option. There had to be more room for us all, especially with John having an office in the house."

John pulled Josephine close to him so he could rest a hand on her bump.

They are obviously totally in love and their open affection and frankness is a measure of how the past three years of pain and frustration have brought them even closer. "When every day is a trial of temperatures being taken and injections given, internal check-ups and probes in your private parts, intimacy has to become an important part of your relationship," said Josephine. "In finding out one of you isn't easily capable of having kids there's a lot of strain and stress. We have argued a lot.

"But our aim was a child and we had to get there because I believe that's what I've been put on this earth to do.

"It was hard for John because he had all those macho ideas of no sperm meaning he was less of a man so we had some tough times. There were arguments when we found out John was the problem. He was angry and ashamed because he thought people would think less of him. He was shocked. I had to keep telling him it's not about blame, it's just a medical fact. It's like being 5ft tall and wanting to be 6ft. There's nothing you can do.

"Because our relationship was so strong the arguments were never really important and we'd work them out. It was mainly tiredness and frustration. Now the rows seem stupid.

"But he soon got over that and knew we had to find a way of getting what sperm he did have in the same place as my eggs. We have become a lot closer and stronger. We can even laugh a little about it all now."

It took a year for the couple to realise something was wrong when regular sex and the rhythm method failed to end in pregnancy.

The rhythm method, also used for contraception, indicates when a woman is most likely to conceive.

Josephine charted her temperature every day, waiting for the slight peak each month that indicated ovulation was likely to occur. Then for three short days - the lifespan of an egg -she and John would make love at every opportunity. "We had sex so much it was becoming a bit of a turn off," said John. "I'd be pottering about and Jo would shout for me to come and make love to her. It became as routine as washing your hands and, to be honest, for both of us it was about as interesting.

"All the passion was gone because it was a means to an end. The sex was to conceive and not for enjoyment."

Josephine, an office manager for Railtrack, took up the story. She said: "After a while it was a chore and I'd tell John off for working in the garden because he could be making love to me. We were sick of sex by the end of it and it wasn't working so I went for tests.

"Mine came up fine and so John had to go. He didn't like the idea and it took a while for him to accept him being the problem had to be an option. When they tested his semen they couldn't find one sperm. We were both devastated. It was so important to us for it to be his sperm and my egg. We didn't want donors."

The couple had just about given up when the St George's clinic in Tooting offered them a lifeline. They said there was a possibility that some immature sperm could be found and that they could be removed with a surgical straw and used to fertilise Josephine's eggs.

It meant hormone injections for Josephine every day to prepare her for conception - but for John the pounds 2,500 treatment became even more complex. "I knew it would be painful but we had to do it and we just couldn't think about the money - we'd get it somehow," he said.

John had some cash in the bank which they had been saving for their wedding. John went on: "When I went in for the operation they still couldn't find sperm. The doctors had to do a biopsy of my testes - that means taking a slice cross-section - to have a better chance of finding sperm.

"It makes your eyes water just to think about it but I'd do it again today for the joy it has given us."

They went in to St George's just before Christmas last year. While Josephine lay on an operating table, John was given a local anaesthetic and a small tube was inserted into him.

"They found just 10 sperm and they rushed them to Jo's eggs." said John. "First they had to find the healthiest - the most mobile ones."

She had three eggs directly injected by sperm and implanted into her womb. Then came two weeks of waiting - the most excruciating of their lives - before a pregnancy test could be done.

The night before the final day they tried to keep their minds off it at a friend's party - in vain.

They went home early and lay awake waiting for the next day to find out if their dream had come true.

As soon as it was done, John grabbed the test result from his wife and ran to the sitting room to wait in the darkness for the result.

He said: "Josephine joined me and there was so much fear in that room you could have touched it. Everything, our whole lives, seemed to depend on those three minutes.

"When I switched on the lights and looked down, the test had turned pink - it was positive.

"I screamed and Jo just looked at me in disbelief. We just held each other, crying as if we'd never stop. It was the most tremendous day of our lives - a miracle.

"Now we can enjoy sex again without it being a chore or worrying about what's going wrong."

Only one of the three eggs has matured and although they have been able to watch their baby's progress on the world's most advanced 3D scanner, they don't want to know its sex.

Josephine added: "Watching our baby growing and moving on screen makes it all real. The doctors have given us this miracle."

Dr Gita Nargund, who is in charge of the unit, said: "John had the lowest sperm count I have ever seen and his chances were bad.

"His sperm count was almost zero. First we found a few weak sperm, then we found none. A normal healthy man would have millions of sperm in a teaspoon of semen.

"Eventually we found just 10 live sperm and some of those were damaged."

She added: "It is remarkable we have been able to help him become a natural parent - the odds were stacked against him.

"In fact I would say it was a miracle."

And as the couple prepare for the birth of their child in August they are already wondering if they'd ever do it all again.

John added: "We would if we could. That's for the future though. For now we'll concentrate on this child and giving it the best life we can."
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Palmer, Pascale
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 31, 1998
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