A giant frame full of baby pictures covers a hallway wall at the University of Kansas Hospital’s Women’s Health Center in Overland Park.
Like a proud papa, physician Samuel Kim shows it off to visitors: “These are all the babies we’ve made here.”
On Wednesday, he was looking for a spot on the wall for his newest and “most special” little one, Morgan Belle Dickson. She’s the first baby in the Kansas City area, and in the state of Kansas, to be born from a frozen egg, the hospital said.
Kim, who heads the hospital’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Clinic, was meeting her for the first time.
In a yellow-and-white romper, 2-week-old Morgan squirmed in the arms of her mother, Jessica Dickson, an assistant athletic director at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Morgan’s father, Ryan Dickson, a business analyst at UMB in Kansas City, looked on as photographers snapped photo after photo of his wife and daughter.
“Oh, she is so cute, so adorable,” Kim said, smiling and staring into Morgan’s face as she woke from a brief nap. “... So much joy, this is the joy of my job.”
Kim froze Dickson’s eggs in February 2011 while she and her husband took a few months to ponder how and when to proceed with starting a family. The couple had tried for three years to get pregnant, and “we ran into some fertility issues,” Dickson said. They were sent to Kim, who was working with a “fairly new technology” for freezing human eggs.
The process, known as cryopreservation, isn’t all that new.
Human sperm, 1,000 times smaller than a human egg, have been successfully frozen since 1955. The first live birth from a frozen embryo — a fertilized egg — occurred in 1983.
The first baby born from a frozen egg was in 1986 in Australia. But for two decades after that, success with eggs was low, Kim said.
The egg, the largest cell in the body, is a delicate unit composed mostly of water. When one is frozen, the formation of ice can damage it. So “cryoprotectants” are used like antifreeze to reduce ice formation. But too much cryoprotectant can be toxic.
The process requires a delicate balance, Kim said.
The egg is frozen instantly in liquid nitrogen in a process known as vitrification, and can be kept for up to 10 years. Kim says his office is holding frozen eggs for four or five other women.
Successfully freezing eggs, Kim said, has grown popular on the East and West coasts. He guesses a little more than 1,000 babies worldwide have been born from frozen eggs. In the last six or seven years, with technology improvements, the procedure has taken off in this country, and now about a third or more of fertility clinics nationwide freeze eggs, he said.
Kim expects that with this first successful birth here, more people who have had fertility issues, but who struggle with ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of frozen embryos, may seek egg vitrification as an alternative.
“Some people think the frozen embryo is a life,” Kim said. “But the egg is not — it is a cell.”
After Dickson went through several weeks of hormone therapy, Kim took nine eggs last February for vitrification. Six months later, in August, five eggs were fertilized and two were implanted. She has two embryos frozen.
She announced in November that she was pregnant. The Dicksons learned in December they were expecting a girl.
“The waiting was very difficult,” Ryan Dickson said. “With every doctor’s appointment and every milestone we reached, there was just a sigh of relief. It was a very exciting and emotional ride.”
The pregnancy was without complications. Right on time, on May 1, by Caesarean section, Morgan was born at 8 pounds, 11.8 ounces and 21 inches.
The Dicksons said they had no idea when they started the process that if the birth were successful, theirs would be the first here.
“Dr. Kim kept that part from us and I think that was a good idea,” Jessica Dickson said, adding that had they known, it might have made an already stressful situation more so.
“She is a very healthy baby,” Dickson said. “We definitely don’t mind showing her off. She has already made the rounds. At home it’s been like a revolving door with family and friends coming in and out. Everyone is very excited. She’s already been to her first (UMKC) Roos softball game.”
The couple said they are “a very sports-oriented” family, and Dickson said she thinks little Morgan will probably end up an athlete.
“She has soccer feet and basketball hands.”