A Fierce Longing Fulfilled: How My Infertility Led to a Multi-Million Dollar Business Helping Women

It’s one thing for a woman to say she enjoys her job; for that woman to create a career founded on personal experience and a dream to revolutionize an entire industry is completely different.

In 2010 I chose the latter. My and my husband’s journey through various struggles of infertility opened my eyes to a demand for better donor egg IVF options.

Alongside my business partner, Michael Levy, MD of the highly esteemed Shady Grove Fertility Center, I withdrew from my previous position and sought to bring life to the vision of providing easy access to high-quality frozen donor eggs coast to coast. In my eyes, a career assisting infertile couples is a simple path to choose. That being said, I will never underestimate the role my own experience with this disease played in my decision.

Where it All Began: The Infertility Struggle that Started My Career

Like so many couples, my husband and I couldn’t wait to have a family. When we made the decision to try for a baby, our heads were full of dreams and expectations for what was to come. Like most couples, it never crossed our mind that we wouldn’t become pregnant. Nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead.

Months turned into years of negative pregnancy tests and multiple miscarriages. Our lives revolved around ovulation charts, IUI’s and one failed IVF cycle after another. It was finally recommended we use an egg donor. At the time, the cost of donor egg treatment was expensive with no guarantee of success.

We chose a different route and welcomed our son, adopted from Guatemala, into our lives. There are no words to describe the joy we felt to finally have a son after so much disappointment. Soon after we brought him home, we decided to start the process of adopting another child from Guatemala. Sadly, in the short period of time since we’d finalized our first adoption, the laws had changed and the little girl who was supposed to be ours would never come home.

Donor Eggs: The Decision that Started It All

Despite our failed second adoption, we knew our family wasn’t complete. At the time I was working for a fertility clinic where one of the physicians encouraged us to consider donor eggs. Only fresh egg donation was offered and pursuing it gave our family twins.

Despite the gratitude we felt for our egg donor, I was painfully aware of the pitfalls that can come with a fresh donor egg IVF cycle. Not only is it a costly, time-consuming venture, couples are limited to a small pool of donor candidates within their region.

Parallel to my treatment Shady Grove Fertility was offering a trial program, using egg vitrification with donor eggs, which had proven to be successful. Michael had the forward-thinking vision of launching an egg bank. 

Having just completed treatment, I began to consider the ways in which a broader selection of donors could be beneficial. When a couple must choose from a narrow group of individuals, the chances of finding someone who meets each of their wants and needs are slim. If the selection pool was extended from a few counties to the entire country, finding the perfect donor would be more likely.

How Did Vitrification Turn our Dream into a Reality?

When Michael and I began conversing about this business model, frozen donor eggs were not yet well-regarded within the medical community. Old fashioned slow-freezing processes often caused ice crystal formation which reduced egg quality and often yielded unsuccessful results.

The results of egg vitrification were revolutionary and this new freezing technology had the potential to disrupt the field of infertility. Vitrification cools and freezes fresh eggs rapidly while exposing them to advanced cryoprotectants that safeguard the integrity of the donated eggs, allowing them to be stored, and later thawed, in the same condition they were collected from the donor.

When I left my job in 2010 this flash-freezing technology was still considered an experimental process. Finding fertility clinics willing to partner with us under that label proved difficult; but by the time we launched we persuaded thirteen facilities that this technology was at the precipice of something amazing.

The experimental label was not lifted from vitrification until October of 2012. Our first shipment of eggs went out nine months earlier. Our second shipment resulted in a healthy set of twins! We knew we had something special with this innovative technology.

When Personal Struggles Become Personal Gains

Beginning as a small start-up company, we quickly saw a revolution taking place. We went from a small number of clinics in a few states to achieving our dream of offering eggs from coast to coast and internationally.

When I look at my children today I can’t help but think about the extraordinary impact they’ve had on my life, both personally and professionally. Because of the struggle we endured to bring them into our family, I was given the drive to do something wonderful.

By 2016, four short years after our official launch, over 1,300 children were born through our company. This isn’t just work for me. This is life, love and the ability to help couples achieve their dreams of having a family.

Heidi Hayes is the Executive Vice President of California Cryobank's Donor Egg Bank. She has more than 20 years of healthcare experience and has worked extensively in the field of reproductive endocrinology. Having been unsuccessful at traditional IUI and IVF treatments, Heidi personally understands the struggles of infertility. After many years of trying to conceive, she ultimately built her family through adoption and donor egg treatment. She always believed that if she didn't give up, her ultimate goal of becoming a parent would someday become a reality.

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