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SCIENCE & SPACE

'I had a baby with my sister's ovary'

By Stephanie Yarber for CNN

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Melanie Morgan, right, donated an ovary to her twin, Stephanie Yarber.

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LIFE-CHANGING TECH

(CNN) -- Stephanie Yarber, from Alabama, became infertile in her teens. She gave birth to her first baby, Anna Grace, five months ago, after receiving healthy ovary tissue from her identical twin sister, Melanie Morgan. Here is her story:

I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure when I was 14. My periods had become irregular and by the time I was 16 I was taking hormone replacement therapy. If I forgot to take my medicine I would have all the symptoms of menopause, including hot flushes.

My doctors told me at the time that the only way I was ever likely to have kids would be using donor eggs. Like most 14-year-old girls, I wasn't really thinking about having a family at that age.

I knew I wanted to be a mommy eventually but it wasn't until I met my husband, Kevin, when I was 16 that it started to bother me. When I was first told I wouldn't be able to have kids, my twin sister, Melanie, had said at the time, "Don't worry, you can have some of my eggs." I didn't ever have to approach her about the idea -- there was never any question that she would do this for me.

In May 2003, I had my first In Vitro procedure with eggs donated by Melanie, but it failed. I had another procedure in August 2003, this time with frozen embryos that doctors had taken earlier, but the success rate is much lower with frozen embryos and that didn't work either.

Then I started playing around on the Internet and began looking at medicines and treatments for premature ovarian failure. I came across a case in China where a woman had donated one of her ovaries to her twin sister, who went on to successfully have her own children. I thought maybe I would be able to do it using Melanie's ovary -- crucially using ovarian tissue that contained her eggs. My sister has three of her own daughters, aged seven, five and three.

I did some more research and came across Dr. Sherman Silber in Missouri who had performed a similar operation on a man in 1979. That man went on to have four children. So in December 2003, I made contact with Dr Silber and told him about my situation. We spent months emailing and talking on the phone and finally in April 2004 he did the procedure. He had never done an operation like it.

For Melanie, it meant having laparoscopic surgery to remove one of her ovaries. For me, it involved a four-hour operation at St Luke's Hospital in St Louis. They grafted a third of the tissue on each side and kept a third for research. I didn't have any of my own eggs left so they were effectively putting ovarian tissue in me, which contained Melanie's eggs. Because we are identical twins, we have the same DNA and there was minimal chance my body would reject the new tissue.

After that, I had to have my hormone levels checked every month, then my periods started again -- by September I was pregnant. Anna Grace is now five months old. Some days I think I take it for granted. But to look at her, I just cannot imagine life without her. I just look at her and think, she's mine, she's not anyone else's. She's mine.

With the extra tissue they saved, they are researching what causes women to go through menopause early. It's amazing to think that I might be able to help them figure the puzzle out. It's also amazing to think that what's in the medical text books might one day be proven inaccurate by developments in science. We just don't know what's around the corner.

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