Former heavyweight boxing champion Tommy "The Duke" Morrison was forced to retire from the bloody profession of boxing when he tested HIV positive in 1996. But if HIV has kept this 33-year-old out of the ring, he's determined not to let it stop him from having a baby with his wife, Dawn. "This is our way of solidifying our marriage," Morrison says from his Tennessee home.
Two University of Milan Medical School studies presented in July at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona give this former fighter and other positive man/negative woman couples hope of making healthy babies. The studies affirmed that a procedure called sperm-washing is a safe alternative to risky pregnancy attempts via unsafe sex. One confirmed previous findings that HIV is present not in sperm but only in seminal fluid, so when sperm is "washed" -- when semen is put in a centrifuge to separate out sperm from fluid -- the virus can be cleared. The other study tracked 175 couples who received artificial insemination with washed sperm and found that none of the women had seroconverted.
Anne Kiessling, PhD, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, has worked (independently of Harvard) to help serodiscordant couples -- including the Morrisons -- conceive. She says the new findings and the buzz they generated "confirm that serodiscordant couples are desperate to have kids -- and to have information about the safest way to do it."
Jack Moye, MD, who specializes in mother-and-child HIV issues at the National Institutes of Health, says the findings presented at Barcelona are encouraging -- but not groundbreaking enough to alter federal recommendations against docs fertilizing HIV negative women with a positive man's sperm. "This doesn't eliminate the possibility that a woman can become infected," he says. "But these findings are reaffirming -- physicians experienced in these procedures are helping couples successfully conceive without HIV transmission."
The Morrisons hope to join the ranks of the safely pregnant soon. Dawn recently had a few embryos, fertilized with Tommy's washed sperm, implanted in her uterus; while the first attempt didn't take, they're ready to try again. If all goes well, says Morrison, "This is going to change our lives."
Pos/neg couples considering parenthood can contact Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (SPAR) at Duncan Holly Biomedical, a Boston clinic founded by Kiessling at 617-623-7447 or www.duncanholly.com. Or contact the Assisted Reproduction Foundation, at 617-623-5670 or www.reproduction.org.