As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. And in the case of proud mum Melissa Ioane, she has 200 strangers to thank for helping to save the lives of her gorgeous twin daughters.
Melissa (35) and her husband Matthew (43) had tried for eight painful years, and endured five rounds of IVF, to have children. The Balclutha woman wondered why she and her sister Jenny kept having miscarriages. Jenny had seven miscarriages and Melissa had two before both underwent testing in 2011 and discovered the reason for their heartache.
The sisters suffered from a rare blood disorder called hypofibrinogenemia, which causes a deficiency of fibrinogen in the blood.
“Fibrinogen is like a clotting ingredient. During pregnancy, it acts like a glue that holds the embryo in place. If you don’t have enough of it, it’s hard for the embryo to stay put,” explains Melissa.
“When we finally discovered what was wrong, it gave me hope. We could be treated and finally carry our pregnancy to full term. Before, trying to get pregnant was like crossing our fingers and hoping that it would work.”
Two years ago, Matthew and Melissa decided to have their final course of IVF, and soon discovered they were expecting twins.
“If we weren’t successful this time, we decided there was no point carrying on. It was just too painful,” Melissa says.
With the knowledge this was their very last chance, they tried a revolutionary treatment to help. Melissa had blood transfusions twice a week throughout her pregnancy, using three 150ml bags each session.
In the end, the blood from more than 200 donors helped lift the levels of fibrinogen in her blood and kept the pregnancy viable.
“Because it’s a rare disorder, I was like a guinea pig for this procedure. We didn’t know if it would work or not.
“I was pessimistic. We had been trying for eight years to have children – I couldn’t let myself get too excited because I had been disappointed so many times in the past.”
Although it was the last resort, the treatment worked. Melissa was overjoyed when she carried her twins full term, and shed many tears when she was finally able to hold her gorgeous daughters Gemma and Eliza – who were born by Caesarean – in her arms.
“It was a surreal moment. It took a while to sink in and for me to believe that these babies were mine and I was able to take them home.”
Melissa has given blood in the past, and after having relied on donors to carry her children, she appreciates the huge impact the decision can have on people’s lives.
“When you think of blood transfusions, you think of people needing them after an accident, or of people who suffer from a disease. You don’t think of people in my situation.
“Whenever I gave blood, I never thought about what happened to it once it left my body.
“I didn’t realise what a great gift it was. But now I’ve been at the other end, I’m extremely grateful. Without the blood donors, I wouldn’t have these wee girls.”
It’s a also a happy ending for Melissa’s sister Jenny. After seven miscarriages, she finally gave birth to a son, Isaac, six weeks before the twins. She also had blood transfusions throughout her pregnancy to save him.
Melissa’s twins are now nearly two, and have brought immense happiness to their doting parents. “They are very active little girls who make us smile and laugh on a constant basis,” Melissa tells.
Melissa is eternally grateful to the 200 anonymous donors who helped her realise her dream of becoming a mother.
“I don’t have the words to express the gratitude I have,” she says. “They have given me these little girls who are my pride and joy."