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Remembering the physician who created hope for so many families

If it weren’t for Robert ­Edwards, among other brilliant, determined doctors, I would not be here. It’s really that simple. And that is overwhelming.

Robert Edwards, who died Wednesday at age 87, was one half of the duo who pioneered in vitro fertilization. He is a ­Nobel prize laureate and was part of the team that in 1978 helped the parents of Louise Brown give birth to the first IVF baby.

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Edwards was not my doctor. However, I will always be connected to this man. In 1981, I was born as the first “test-tube baby” in the United States.

To date, more than 4 million babies have been born worldwide using IVF, which involves fertilization of an egg in a petri dish outside a woman’s womb.

It sounds so simple now, but back then, when Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe were first attempt­ing such a procedure it was controversial, very risky, and, quite frankly, unproven.

Edwards and Steptoe were the ones who pioneered the procedure in Britain. Their work prompted Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones to found the clinic in Norfolk, Va., where I was born. In a way, I owe these doctors my life.

I was a teenager the first time I met Edwards. He was brilliant, and his laugh could fill a room. He was the most quintessential British man I had ever met. He stood with his hands in his pockets when he was listening to medical ­research, but he gesticulated wildly when telling a story; he drank tea; he made carefully-crafted and subtly witty jokes.

As with all the doctors who worked tirelessly to perfect the procedure that brought me into the world, I am forever grateful to this man. There are simply no words to express the overwhelming sense of loss I feel, not just for myself, but also for the world of assisted reproductive technologies.

In my “status” as the first IVF baby in the United States, people in the media have often looked to me for a comment when prominent reproductive news happens.

What can I possibly say to all of the couples he helped? What could I possibly say to those who happen to be children of assisted reproductive technologies?

The truth is, despite being a writer, I have no words. He ­created life. And he created hope for those who thought hope was lost.

Elizabeth Comeau can be reached at ecomeau@
boston.com
. Follow her on
Twitter @BeWellBoston.
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