Woman who had twins via surrogate 'broken' as one contracts meningitis

Woman who had twins via surrogate 'broken' as one contracts meningitis

October 1, 2020

Woman, 50, who married her sperm donor is left devastated after they finally welcomed twins via a Greek surrogate but one is fighting for his life after contracting a rare form of meningitis

  • Lisa Clarke, from Maidenhead, suffered three miscarriages and four failed IVF
  • Friend offered to be her surrogate but she tragically miscarried at 11 weeks
  • Lisa, 50, found specialist clinic in Greece and underwent further IVF which failed
  • Thought she’d never be a mum until spotted surrogate Instagram post years later
  • Found surrogate in Greece who fell pregnant – but while one baby is now strong enough to come home, the other has contracted rare bacterial meningitis 

A mother who welcomed premature twins via a surrogate after a 10-year fertility struggle which cost her over £120,000 admits she is ‘broken’ after one of the babies contracted a rare form of meningitis, while his brother remains in intensive care. 

Lisa Clarke, 50, from Maidenhead, initially met her husband Ruston at a yoga retreat where they formed a close friendship and he agreed to be her sperm donor. 

After multiple failed attempts to have a baby, the pair became a couple and married and both were elated when their sons Bodhi and Keanu were born in Greece last month, via surrogate. 

With Bodhi requiring a longer stay in neonatal care in Athens, Lisa and Ruston were able to leave hospital with Keanu home four days – but rushed him back into hospital a week later after noticing unusual changes in his behaviour.

The couple were then dealt the heartbreaking blow that Keanu had contracted a very rare form of bacterial meningitis which has spread to his brain and caused abscesses, with potential long-term damage. 

Lisa Clarke, 50, from Maidenhead, and her husband Ruston (pictured) welcomed premature twins via a surrogate after a 10-year fertility struggle which cost her over £120,000 – but one of the babies has contracted a rare form of meningitis

With his brother Bodhi requiring a longer stay in neonatal care, Lisa and Ruston were able to take Keanu (pictured) home after four days – but rushed him back into hospital a week later after noticing unusual changes in his behaviour

Unable to leave the country while their son’s life hangs in the balance, Lisa and Ruston are now desperately fundraising via GoFundMe to cover Keanu’s soaring medical bills – while being prevented from seeing him due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

Speaking to FEMAIL, Lisa admitted: ‘Ruston and I are processing so many emotions from guilt, anxiety to shock. 

‘After everything we have gone through to have these precious souls to feel happiness like no other for a few days to now this – it is too much to comprehend.’

Lisa’s fertility journey began at the age of 40, after leaving her long-term partner when he admitted he couldn’t see a future with children.

She met her now-husband shortly afterwards at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and the pair formed a close friendship, with Ruston agreeing to be her sperm donor.

The couple were then dealt the heartbreaking blow that Keanu (pictured before he became ill) had contracted a very rare form of bacterial meningitis which has spread to his brain and caused abscesses, with potential long-term damage

Unable to leave the country while their son’s life hangs in the balance, Lisa and Ruston are now desperately fundraising to cover Keanu’s soaring medical bills – while being prevented from seeing him due to Covid-19 restrictions. Pictured: Bodhi in hospital

After undergoing a ‘natural’ IVF cycle, Lisa fell pregnant, but sadly miscarried at six weeks. Over the next four years she had two further pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriage, and four failed cycles of IVF, at which point she was eligible for diagnostic testing. 

It transpired Lisa has an overactive immune system which meant her body was rejecting the foetus. 

Feeling her dream of becoming a mother was fading fast, she looked into surrogacy, and was overwhelmed when a close friend agreed to carry her baby. Following a natural IVF cycle using Lisa’s eggs, she fell pregnant. 

‘To say I was grateful was a huge understatement,’ Lisa said. ‘I felt incredibly fortunate and felt sure this was going to be “it”. At last I was going to be a mum.’

But tragedy struck when, at the 12-week scan, Lisa was told the baby had stopped developing a week earlier, leaving her and her friend devastated.

‘My fertility specialist at the time wrote the last miscarriage down to “just one of those unexplained things”,’ she recalled. 

Lisa’s fertility journey began at the age of 40, after leaving her long-term partner when he admitted he couldn’t see a future with children. She met her now-husband (pictured) shortly afterwards at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and the pair formed a close friendship, with Ruston agreeing to be her sperm donor

‘Though my amazing friend was still open to trying again, after putting her through a very harrowing miscarriage, there was no way I felt comfortable to risk putting her in that situation again.’

Lisa’s friend then kindly offered to donate her eggs, which were transferred in August 2014 – but sadly it didn’t result in a pregnancy.

By this point Lisa had consulted with various fertility specialists, and decided to pursue treatment at the Serum IVF clinic in Athens. Ruston – who was still living in the US – flew out to provide a sperm sample, a suitable egg donor was found and six embryos were frozen.

Having been on a concoction of drugs to reduce her body’s immune response, Lisa had three embryos transferred in February 2015, but unfortunately she still didn’t fall pregnant. 

‘I had reached the point there were no more plan Bs,’ she explained. ‘Finances at this point were limited and what I had hoped had been the solution to implantation failure hadn’t worked so I was at a loss as to what to try next. 

After suffering miscarriages and failed rounds of IVF, Lisa had consulted with various fertility specialists, and decided to pursue treatment at the Serum IVF clinic in Athens. Ruston – who was still living in the US – flew out to provide a sperm sample, a suitable egg donor was found and six embryos were frozen

‘I had literally thrown everything at this by now; there was not a test I had not done, a treatment I had not tried, both conventional and non conventional.’

Having sold her property in London, Lisa moved to Oregon to be with Ruston and the pair married on St Patrick’s Day in 2016. While life had taken a more positive turn, Lisa felt guilty about leaving her family in the UK, especially as her mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

In December 2018, she made the difficult decision to return to the UK to support her family with her mother’s care. On New Year’s Eve, while scrolling through Instagram, Lisa came across a surrogacy post shared by the Serum clinic.

‘The reason this stood out to me is that when I had last been in touch with Serum in 2015 and asked about surrogacy, it was illegal to anyone but Greek citizens,’ Lisa explained.

She contacted them the following day and received an almost instant response, confirming the law had changed.  

Bodhi and Keanu (pictured with dad Ruston) were born at 34 weeks and Lisa admitted she couldn’t believe her luck

‘For the first time in years the remnants of a flicker of hope sparked to life,’ Lisa admitted. 

At this point she was fast approaching her 50th birthday – the legal cut-off age for the intended mother of a surrogate child in Greece – so the clinic moved swiftly and, after a suitable surrogate came forward, two of the three remaining embryos held by Serum were transferred that October – but yet again, no pregnancy.

After consulting with her specialist, the couple decided on a plan to improve Ruston’s sperm, which wasn’t bad but did show a high amount of DNA fragmentation.

After a 40-day course of antibiotics, testosterone and antioxidant supplements, his sperm quality rocketed and the couple decided on one last attempt. A donor was found and two embryos were transferred in February this year – weeks before the clinic shut due to Covid-19.

Days later the couple received the joyous news their surrogate was expecting twins – five months before Lisa’s 50th birthday. 

Lisa admitted she and Ruston struggled with only being allowed to see their newborns for a few minutes before they were whisked away to neonatal. They were then prevented from visiting them due to Covid-19 restrictions. Pictured with Keanu

On September 25, Lisa told how Keanu (pictured) didn’t seem himself, but the new parents put his crying down to colic and an upset stomach. When he took a turn for the worse, they took him into hospital, where they received his heartbreaking diagnosis

The pregnancy was relatively straightforward bar a few scares until a scan earlier this month showed one baby was experiencing abnormal blood flow. The boys were delivered at 34 weeks on September 14.

‘I could not truly believe it when Dr Ioannis came and told us we have two healthy boys,’ Lisa recalled. 

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Anyone can be affected but at-risk people include those aged under five, 15-to-24 and over 45.

People exposed to passive smoking or with suppressed immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy, are also more at risk.

The most common forms of meningitis are bacterial and viral.

Bacterial meningitis 

Bacterial meningitis requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics.  

Some 10 per cent of bacterial cases are fatal.

Of those who survive, one in three suffer complications, including brain damage and hearing loss. 

Limb amputation is a potential side effect if septicaemia (blood poisoning) occurs.

Vaccines are available against certain strains of bacteria that cause meningitis, such as tuberculosis.  

Symptoms for both include:

  • Pale, blotchy skin with a rash that does not fade when compressed with a glass
  • Stiff neck  
  • Dislike of bright lights  
  • Fever, and cold hands and feet  
  • Vomiting  
  • Drowsiness  
  • Severe headache 

‘What I was not prepared for was, despite having had the Covid test, we would have to see the boys individually and then only for a few minutes. 

‘I had expected to be able to stay with them for as long as we wanted, even overnight. Upsettingly we were not allowed to see them until they were ready to be discharged. 

‘At this time Bodhi is still in neonatal and I have not seem him since the day he was born. He was the smaller baby who was showing distress at the scans.

‘Keanu was doing amazing for a preterm and was discharged on the 18th. He was perfect.’

On September 25, Lisa told how Keanu didn’t seem himself, but the new parents put his crying down to colic and an upset stomach. When he took a turn for the worse, they took him into hospital.

‘He was fretful all of Saturday and I wish so much I had reacted sooner,’ Lisa said. ‘I called the hospital at 3am Sunday explaining the symptoms. 

‘They told us to wait three hours and call again if he still wasn’t eating. We decided to override their advice and go straight to the hospital. 

‘We acted quickly but looking back wish I had researched deeper and perhaps pieced together the symptoms to have reacted sooner, thinking it may have made all the difference to the spread of the infection. 

‘A few hours later they confirmed bacterial meningitis and then, having cultured his lumbar fluid, detected it to be an extremely rare form of gram negative bacterial. 

‘The MRI on Monday confirmed he’d had seizures and the infection has crossed the blood brain barrier. 

‘Lesions are visible, in areas that affect both cognitive and motor function, to what degree we do not know. I am too scared to ask right now.

‘The guilt for somehow not reacting sooner I don’t think will ever leave me.’

While the couple hope to bring Bodhi home soon, they hadn’t budgeted for the extra medical care Keanu is receiving, and have set up a GoFundMe page for donations. 

‘I can’t process that this is happening and feel broken,’ Lisa said. ‘We are doing our best to stay positive.’

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