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Patient Story: The Rau Family's Fertility Story

"Words cannot express how much we appreciate everything Brigham and Women’s has done for us. They are a large part of our story, and we are forever grateful."

Both public school educators and members of big families, Melissa, or 'Lissy,' and Evan Rau of Waltham, MA, share a love of children and, after a later-in-life marriage, immediately set out to build a family of their own. After a year, the couple reached out to Brigham and Women's Hospital for fertility care and met with Mark Hornstein, MD, director of Reproductive Endocrinology, who guided them on their fertility journey.

Compassionate Care from Brigham and Women's Fertility Team

According to the couple, Dr. Hornstein ran extensive fertility tests before recommending intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. Throughout the process, Lissy and Evan were impressed by the doctor’s calm, compassionate demeanor and ability to explain things in layman's terms.

"He really put us at ease, and instilled us with a sense of hope," Lissy shares. After a few cycles of IUIs and IVF, the couple became pregnant with their first child.

On September 20, 2019, Evalyn "Evie" Anne Rau was born. Evie had an infectious giggle, an expressive, happy face, and a smile that lit up the room. The couple was overjoyed with their new addition.

An Unimaginable Tragedy and an Unexpected Diagnosis

After only four short months, Evie passed away unexpectedly of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The pain felt by Evie's parents and extended family was unimaginable. They drew some comfort from the fact that Evalyn was able to give her tiny heart to another baby in its hour of need.

Lissy was so overwrought with grief that she reached out to her care team for help. At her appointment, Lissy felt compelled to mention a lump in her right breast that had been causing her some pain and pressure. Further testing, including a biopsy and an immunohistochemical test for estrogen and progesterone receptors, led to a diagnosis of estrogen-receptive stage 3B breast cancer—a serious hormonal cancer that meant Lissy could no longer become pregnant. The grieving family was in shock; they had just lost their precious Evie, and only two weeks later, they were facing Lissy's very serious cancer diagnosis.

Finding a Path Forward

Following her cancer diagnosis, Lissy was introduced by Dr. Horstein to Elizabeth Ginsburg, MD, who leads the oncology-fertility preservation team at Mass General Brigham. Lissy's cancer treatment plan consisted of eight rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of daily radiation, a double mastectomy and ten years of medication. In the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the grieving mother had to attend medical appointments and cancer treatments alone and keep her loved ones at a safe distance.

Lissy's Mass General Brigham care team became her main social support network during what was undoubtedly the scariest and saddest time in her life. Parallel to Lissy's cancer treatment, Dr. Ginsberg worked with her and Evan to pursue their dream of building a family. Luckily, Lissy had undergone a cycle of IVF and had viable embryos frozen before her cancer treatment began.

The couple began exploring the idea of surrogacy with two family members who were both willing to serve as a gestational carrier.

A New Addition to the Family Arrives Early

The wife of one of Lissy's cousins, a woman named Jillian, underwent an embryonic transfer on the couple's behalf and became pregnant. The child, a girl, was due on August 16, 2021. Lissy and Evan were excited to welcome the baby. Unexpectedly, on April 29, 2021, Jillian prematurely went into labor and delivered the couple's daughter, Marinna Jillian Rau, at 24 weeks.

Marinna spent her first 161 days in Brigham and Women's Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before being sent home with Lissy and Evan in October 2021.

Marinna has some ongoing health issues, but today, the parents report that she is exceeding their expectations by becoming a very social little girl who loves people and always has a smile on her face.

Safe Harbor in the Storm: Comprehensive, Coordinated Care at Brigham and Women's

After an emotional and exhausting few years, the Rau family continues to trust Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Mass General Brigham network with their medical care.

"Words cannot express how much we appreciate everything Brigham and Women’s has done for us," shares Lissy. "Their caring team is a large part of our family story, and we are forever grateful. I hope no one has to go through what we went through, but the way in which the doctors in fertility, oncology and then the NICU all worked together to care for me and my family, in the midst of personal tragedies and a global pandemic, made a huge difference. There are brighter days ahead, but it’s comforting to know the Brigham team is there for us, no matter what happens."

Dr. Mark Hornstein with the Rau familyDr. Mark Hornstein pictured alongside Lissy and Evan Rau. Evan holds their daughter Marinna, while displaying a photograph of Evie.

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