Jared and Alexis Sanchez found hope hanging on the wall of the PEAK Center. That’s where they noticed a flyer on Craig Hospital’s fertility clinic run by Pam Lauer, nurse practitioner with Craig’s outpatient clinic. The couple had been trying to conceive another child since Jared’s accident in 2012, which left him with a spinal cord injury (SCI). They couldn’t afford the hefty price tag of invitro fertilization (IVF)—which they heard was their only option.
“We tried on our own with no luck and I finally got to a point where I simply let go. I said to myself, if God wants us to have another child, it will happen,” says Alexis. “Shortly after that we walked into the PEAK Center—something we usually don’t do—after one of Jared’s appointments and we saw the flyer. It was kind of crazy how it all lined up.”
Pam established the fertility clinic in December 2016 after attending a certification training called “Management of Infertility in Men with Spinal Cord Injury” through The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. It was something she wanted to do since starting at Craig in 2001 as a nurse.
“A lot of people have questions about sexuality after SCI. I didn’t have the answers, but I wanted to learn,” Pam says. “Soon, I was the person people came to with questions on fertility and sexual health. Once I became a nurse practitioner, I decided I wanted to create a formal program at Craig.”
Men with SCI face specific fertility challenges. They have a hard time sustaining an erection, and their sperm quality and motility declines. It all adds up to difficulty fathering children. Pam uses special equipment that helps men ejaculate, empowering couples like Jared and Alexis to conceive. She focuses on providing safe, minimally-invasive and relatively low-cost options.
“Many couples are told that expensive IVF is their only option, but with penile vibratory stimulation (PVS), we can achieve an 86% success rate among men with a T10 or higher spinal cord injury at a low cost. It’s very satisfying to offer this alternative and bring hope to couples,” Pam adds.
Recently, with dollars from the Craig Foundation and its faithful donors, Pam was able to buy a new piece of equipment to help men with T10 or lower injuries find success. Doing so closes the gap and creates a more affordable option for all men with SCI who want to be a father.
“On our fourth try with Pam, we got lucky,” Alexis says.
Pam helped guide the process. When Alexis was ovulating, the couple would come into her office that same day. Pam would monitor Jared’s blood pressure while gathering a sperm sample, which was then inserted into Alexis. The pregnancy went full term, and today, Jared and Alexis are parents to a beautiful two-month-old baby girl.
“We named her after Pam. Her name is Briar Lauer Sanchez,” says Alexis. “We couldn’t say thank you enough and this was one way to try. When we told Pam her middle name, she cried.”
Alexis describes Pam as super real and very sensitive to emotions. She appreciates how Pam gave them her all, fitting them in despite a busy schedule and making them feel as comfortable as possible despite an inherently awkward process.
Pam wants to help as many couples as she can, Craig patients or not. That’s why she creates educational webinars on fertility and sexuality after SCI and posts them on the resources page on Craig’s website. She plans to add several more webinars in 2020.
“I want people to know that it’s very possible to have a child after SCI outside of IVF,” Pam says. “People need to know that fertility and sexuality don’t end with SCI.”
Craig is unique among rehabilitation hospitals for having a fertility clinic. Pam estimates there are only a few clinics like it in the country that focus on low-cost, low-tech options for conceiving after spinal cord injury.