Twenty-two-year-old Shivamma Chalgeri, from Solapur district, speaks haltingly in Marathi, “mi bari hain’’ (I am fine), as she gets up from the hospital bed to demonstrate that all, indeed, is well with her. On May 18 last year, Shivamma, who was born without a uterus, underwent the country’s first uterine transplant at Pune’s Galaxy Care Hospital, when her mother Lalita’s uterus was transplanted into her. “Mazhi pali aata barobar hain (I have a normal menstrual cycle now),” she says.
Meenakshi Valand, 27, from Gujarat’s Bharuch district, is in another room at the same hospital. The day after Shivamma’s surgery, on May 19, Meenakshi also underwent a uterine transplant.
“Mane bas saru balak aave etli prarthana che (I am just praying for a normal child),” she says as her 45-year-old mother Susheela, who donated her uterus, speaks about her daughter’s quick recovery.
The success story of the country’s first two uterine transplants, performed back to back, and the experiences of a team of doctors in the first-ever “laparoscopic assisted live donor retrieval of two patients”, will soon be published in the American Association of Gynaecologic Laparoscopists’s Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynaecology.
Dr Shailesh Puntambekar, director of Galaxy Care Hospital, says details about the surgeries, as well as the six-month follow-up data, was reported to the journal. “Before the uterus transplant, in-vitro fertilisation was done for both women. In Shivamma’s case, the uterus was absent, while Meenakshi had a scarred uterus (Asherman’s syndrome)”.
“The uterus and harvested vessels from both donor mothers were retrieved via a small abdominal incision, to prevent injury and infection.The uterus was then transplanted in the respective daughters,” says Puntambekar.
“Both women have started menstruating and after the transplant, the hysteroscopy showed a healthy endometrium,” explains Puntambekar, adding that the laparoscopic assisted procedure helps in better dissection of the vessels and shortens the operative time.
Now, eight months after the surgery, Shivamma is taking one step at a time. “Till I got married, at the age of 17, I didn’t think much about why I didn’t have menstrual periods. After my marriage, I visited several doctors, but none of them could give an accurate diagnosis, till the surgeons at the Solapur Civil Hospital directed me to Galaxy Care Hospital,” she says.
When Dr Puntambekar told her to consider a uterine transplant, Shivamma’s mother Lalita agreed to donate her uterus. “My mother and husband agreed to the procedure… I guess I am lucky,” says Shivamma.
For Meenakshi, who got married in 2009, it has been a long wait to start a family. “I had two deliveries and four abortions and ended up with a scarred uterus,” says Meenakshi, who didn’t hesitate in going ahead with the transplant. “I have gone through so much, and now everything is working out smoothly,” she says.
Her mother Susheela, who readily agreed to donate her uterus, didn’t even need a second opinion. “What is the use of this uterus if it can’t help my daughter,” she says.
Both Shivamma and Meenakshi have normal ovaries, which were harvested, and sperms taken from their respective husbands to prepare the embryos. “We have frozen four embryos in Shivamma’s case and eight in Meenakshi’s case,” Dr Puntambekar says, adding that eight months later, the women are ready for an assisted pregnancy.
“Of course, we are tense… but these women are our inspiration and they look so happy,” adds Dr Puntambekar.
Third uterine transplant on Republic Day
A team of doctors at Galaxy Care Hospital have received the go-ahead from Sassoon General Hospital and B J Medical College’s transplant committee to conduct the third uterine transplant, scheduled for January 26.
“The woman is 27 years old and does not have a uterus. While her 52-year-old mother is post-menopausal, we have given her tablets so that she menstruates,” says Dr Puntambekar. The doctors are also awaiting permission for a fourth uterine transplant, for a woman from Bihar, planned on January 27.
Meanwhile, doctors at Galaxy Care Hospital have been flooded with applications for uterine transplants. “We have registered 480 applications that are suitable for a uterine transplant and in a majority of cases, the uterus is absent,” Dr Puntambekar said, adding that they have received requests from places like Iran, Doha, Kenya and Nigeria.