Reported by big news outlets on 23 August, the historic surgery took place in early February 2023 in Oxford. The surgery involved two sisters who wish to remain anonymous, one born without a uterus.
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However, while the operation is groundbreaking in the UK, the same type has already happened in Sweden in 2014 which resulted in the birth of a healthy baby and since then, over 100 womb transplants have happened all over the world.
This British surgery came after 25 years of research and is reported as a ‘massive success.’ It required a team of around 30 people and 17 hours of work. Although it promises to be life changing for many women in the UK, the groundbreaking scientific operation comes at a hefty cost and, in order to do more, charities and patients would need massive donations.
Why are some women born without a womb?
The UK success story involves two sisters who were, at the time of the operation, 40 and 34. The oldest was born with a full set of reproductive organs while her younger sister was born with Type 1 Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH).The very rare condition is characterised by the NHS by ‘a shortened vagina, absent cervix and absent or undeveloped uterus (womb).’
The first sign of this condition usually comes in puberty when impacted women do not start having periods. Having this condition means that these women aren’t able to carry children or get pregnant. However, women with the condition still have ovaries from which doctors can extract eggs that can be used for IVF and then transplanted into a surrogate.
The two sisters who share a womb give hope to women in the UK
The two sisters who were successfully operated in February 2023 are a sign of massive hope to women in the UK. Indeed, this operation came after 25 years of research by Prof Richard Smith.
The professor calls the operation a ‘massive success’ and the transplant surgeon, Isabel Quiroga says:
(the patient) was absolutely over the moon, very happy, and is hoping that she can go on to have not one but two babies. Her womb is functioning perfectly and we are monitoring her progress very closely.
This operation was funded by the charity Womb Transplant UK which reports that ‘more than 500 women’ had contacted them in order to be able to get that surgery. However, at the moment the UK has only allowed 15 womb transplants to be done.
Nonetheless, women all around the country have gained a huge amount of hope now that they have proof that this operation can be done successfully. BBC News has gotten in touch with one of the women wanting to get a womb transplant who had to get her womb removed after getting cancer.
Infertility was a huge part of the impact of my cancer. It affects you every day as you can't avoid pregnant people, babies, and your friends getting into that phase of their life.
This surgery would allow her to carry her own child and be able to experience the motherhood she thought she would never have access to.
The cost of the operation
This operation called ‘miraculous’ doesn’t come freely. Indeed, Womb Transplant UK gave £25,000 in order for the operation to take place. Not only that, the operation required staff to give their time for free. That means that, for this type of surgery to become common practice, it would cost the NHS and patients much more money as all staff would need to be paid.
Furthermore, the chairman of Womb Transplant UK said that they would need £300,000 to carry the other 15 operations allowed.
It should also be noted that this operation doesn’t only come with a monetary cost. Indeed, the women involved have to undergo other procedures and treatment in order to do IVF. Moreover, the two sisters operated in February also had to get therapy and get assessed. The cost of this operation is also very much emotional as well as stressful.
Indeed, doctors announced that the uterus will need to be removed after two pregnancies and Sky News reports that the ‘transplant is expected to last for a maximum of five years’ before its removal.
SkyNews: UK's first-ever womb transplant hailed by doctors as 'dawn of new era' in fertility treatment
BBC News: Woman 'joyous' after sister donates womb in UK first
NHS: Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser syndrome (MRKH)