What a great Olympics! Teens winning gold like it was candy. Shields in boxing, Ledecky and Franklin in swimming. Douglas in the all-around. Poetry in motion. And of course there are the breathtaking performances from Phelps and Bolt. But there are others, many others, whose character, fortitude and perseverance are just as impressive, albeit less dramatic, and equally monumental.
There are patients whom I have had the privilege to take care of that fully exemplify the richness of the Olympic spirit. Here are their stories:
- He is 35 years old and has spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair. Spinal cord injury after a snowboard accident. He marries a lovely woman and wants children. He sees me for help. Although his limbs are largely incapacitated, his eyes are full of life and his face radiates hope. Despite the quadriplegia, he is taught simple techniques to conceive at home, with very little if any technological help. Two years later, he sends a picture of himself and his six-month old son named August taken while camping.
- He is 40 years old and was trying desperately to have children for many years. He faced a diagnosis of azoospermia (no ejaculated sperm). European doctors did their best to find sperm in his testicles with various and sundry surgeries but to no avail. The ever-powerful FNA mapping in my office also failed. After a year of silence, he calls me. “How are you?” “I’m back.” “Back from where?” “I have no idea but I am ready to live again.”
- A 24-year old fruit farm worker from the Central Valley and his 20-year old wife see me in 1997 for azoospermia. I was just developing the technique of FNA mapping to find sperm in the testicles and performed an early version of it on him. It went splendidly and I called him back to tell him that we found sperm and that he could move forward with in vitro fertilization (IVF) with a great chance of having children. He said thanks. Fourteen years later, he finds me again and says, “We’re ready!” I said “For what?” and he responded: “To do IVF and stuff, remember?” They had waited 14 years to save enough money to pay for the procedures they needed! And you know what? It worked the first time and they now have twins.
There is another group of unsung heroes that I see all the time that deserve mention here: the vasectomy survivors. Quietly but nervously, usually toward the end of the week, they meander into my office after work and take one in the jewels for the family. The longest 9 minutes of their lives. A herculean effort. My high regard for them comes in the form of a honest-to-goodness, frame-ready diploma given along with the pain pills. As Kevin Costner (really?) once said: “Real heroes are men who fall and fail and are flawed, but win…in the end because they’ve stayed true to their ideals and beliefs and commitments.”