Medical science termed her birth a miracle. She is Radha, the first baby born in a transplanted uterus in India. Radha was, in fact, born in the same uterus as her mother. This came about as it was Radha's grandmother who donated the uterus to her mother, Meenakshi.
Radha’s birth gives hope to a large number of childless mothers in the country. "My daughter is very fortunate to have grown in the same uterus as I," says Meenakshi.
Though she has only recently reached home after her birth in hospital on October 18, 2018, Radha has already become a star.
Earlier, Meenakshi Valand belonging to Vadodara in Gujarat had received the uterus of her mother, Susheela Ben.
Dreams that began to fade
Vadodara is situated on the banks of the Vishwamitri river and Meenakshi lives at Bharuch in Jambasore, 50 km from the city. Her father is Jayesh Bhaj and mother Susheela Ben. She has a younger brother. Theirs is an ordinary family and Meenakshi was married at age 20. Her husband Hitesh is a beautician. The couple together runs a beauty parlour near their house and making people attractive is a passion for Meenakshi.
Meenakshi conceived soon after her marriage but an abortion took place as the foetus had developmental problems. Though she became pregnant again, she lost that baby too as it had some heart problem. During scanning when she was carrying for a third time, doctors found remnants of the foetus that had grown in Meenakshi’s uterus during the previous conception. They suggested emergency surgery to remove the remnants, but by that time another abortion occurred.
When the remains of the foetus were finally removed, Meenakshi’s uterus suffered serious injuries. Either the injuries had to be sutured or the entire uterus had to be removed. Suturing the uterus did not guarantee any success and Meenakshi’s life itself could be in peril. But Meenakshi decided to undergo the procedure as she wanted to be a mother at any cost. Though she gave consent to suture her uterus, she had no menstruation again.
“We went to Eve’s Hospital at Vadodara afterwards. Doctors there conducted hysteroscopy and found that the inner lining of my uterus had become as solid as white cement. I was also diagnosed with Asherman Syndrome, which is characterized by adhesion of uterine cavities. Women having both these conditions can never conceive. Doctors opined that I would never be able to carry. Moreover, to save my life, the uterus had to be removed. With no other option, that too was done,” says Meenakshi.
Those were trying times for Meenakshi. “It was a big shock for me that I would never have children of my own. My husband, who loved children, too became disconsolate. At the young age of 27, I was left without a uterus. Our wails upset the doctors at Eve’s Hospital and they told us about Galaxy Care Hospital in Pune,” she recalls.
When the doctors there promised that they would transplant a healthy uterus on Meenakshi, her mother immediately came forward to donate her organ. “My mother was so sad about my condition. Who wouldn’t wish for a grandchild?” asks Meenakshi.
“My mother was aged 48 at that time and still had regular periods. She had no health problems too,” she says.
Soon after they reached Pune and consulted the doctors there, Meenakshi and her family regained their confidence and hope. “I too would become a mother at last,” Meenakshi thought.
Dr Shailesh Putambekar, who led the uterine transplant team in the Pune hospital, briefly describes the procedure: “The surgery lasted several hours. After Meenakshi received her mother’s uterus, all of us were very tense. When other organs are transplanted we will know whether the surgery is successful within 24 hours. However, a uterine transplant can be termed a success only when menstruation takes place, which may take months.”
Meenakshi continues, “I had periods 48 days after surgery and that was the happiest moment in my life. I again began dreaming of having a child.”
“In January 2018, IVF (In vitro fertilization) was performed on Meenakshi. Her mother’s uterus had borne a baby several years ago and we had no idea how it would accept a foetus now. Though much care was given, an abortion took place after 48 days. Those were very difficult days and I faced much criticism. But I didn’t lose hope,” says Dr Shailesh.
Dr Milind Telang, the laparoscopic gynaecologist at Galaxy Hospital, explains what happened subsequently: “After three months, in April, another IVF was performed. The next three months were tense. However, everything was fine and during the scan at three months, it was found that the foetus was growing normally. Immunosuppressive drugs are given to women undergoing uterine transplant. These drugs may cause genetic disorders to the foetus. When an organ is transplanted, the receiver’s body has a tendency to reject it. The immunosuppressive drugs are meant to prevent this. To protect the foetus from genetic damage, the dose of the drugs was regulated. Thankfully, Meenakshi’s baby suffered from no genetic issues.”
Hopes turn true
Meenakshi spent the entire period of pregnancy at the Galaxy Hospital. It was a time of total rest with a bit of walking, hearing music and enjoying the food she loved. Much care was taken to prevent infections. “Before every scanning, my heart used to beat wildly. Was the baby growing normally? However, after each scanning I came out of the room with a smile,” says Meenakshi.
At 32 weeks, doctors decided to perform the caesarian. “They had told me that normal delivery was not possible. It was decided to prolong the pregnancy as long as possible, but my blood pressure was going high and the level of amniotic fluid began to fall. In that situation, a date was decided for the caesarian,” remembers Meenakshi.
All doctors, including the paediatrician, were ready before the procedure. On October 18, 2018 at 12.12 noon the baby girl came to this world. Incidentally, it was Dr Shailesh’s 55th birthday too.
Immediately after birth, the baby was shifted to the neonatal ICU which had a radiant warmer. Though there was some breathing problem, it was solved with oxygen therapy. During the first week the baby was given IV fluid and from the second week, the mother’s milk through a tube. This was to avoid the exertion of sucking. This continued till the fourth week. Afterwards, breast milk was given with a spoon. Gradually the baby girl started feeding on her mother’s breast milk like any other normal infant.
“I heaved a sigh of relief only after my little girl was handed over to me. Within five weeks, her weight increase by 700 gms. During discharge, she weighed 2.5 kg. Now she has started smiling and recognizes her father’s voice. She throws no tantrums. She is our darling,” says Meenakshi gently stroking little Radha. When her father kisses her, a sleeping Radha opens her eyes slightly.
A star is born
Meenakshi is all praise for the doctors, nurses and others who cared for them. “Seema, wife of Dr Shailesh, often visited me and brought khichdi and dal, my favourite dishes. She was like my mother. Seeing her love we gave her the right to name the baby and Radha was her choice,” says the happy mother.
“I now feel extremely happy when others are glad. My life would have been very sad without children. Let Radha offer hope to several others. My daughter grew in the same uterus as me. It is like a fairytale, but there is sadness, desperation, hope and finally elation,” says Meenakshi.
She will continue medicines for another month and visit Pune for checkup for three months. Doctors have advised her to plan for another baby only after 5 years.
Meanwhile, Hitesh is preparing to reopen his beauty parlour after a long interval. “We had been in hospital over the last several months. Now we have to return to our old life,” he says. Meenakshi will not take up her job till Radha goes to pre-school. She will spend time caring for her little princess.
India’s first uterine transplant baby
Radha is India’s first and the world’s twelfth baby born in a transplanted uterus. The uterus of Meenakshi’s mother Susheela was transplanted on her on May 19, 2017.
“The first such baby took birth in Sweden in 2014. The first child born in a uterus transplanted from a cadaver was in Brazil in December 2017. While the first uterine transplant lasted 15 hours, we completed it here in 5 hours and 20 minutes by the keyhole method. Only a small incision is done for laparoscopic surgery and the time too is very less,” explains Dr Shailesh, who is the medical director of Galaxy Hospital.
The doctor had been preparing for the uterine transplant for three years. He visited hospitals abroad for the purpose. Before Meenakshi, a uterine transplant was performed on another woman. But she has not conceived so far.
When Meenakshi approached the doctor he explained all aspects of the case to her. For the transplant, a big team of 20 doctors was formed. They included transplant surgeon, gynaecologists and plastic surgeons.
According to statistics, one out of 4000 girl children is born without a uterus or a small uterus. This means there are over 4 lakh women in India facing this condition. Many women also lose their uterus to cancer and other diseases. Radha’s birth gives fresh hopes to all such women.
“We encourage donation of eyes, liver, kidneys etc. Similarly, if mothers come forward to donate their uterus, the lives of many young women will change for the better,” says Dr Telang, who performed the caesarian.
Uterine transplant involves careful suturing of four arteries and four veins. The cost of the surgery is Rs 15 to 18 lakh.