In the Fall of 2000, Denver’s Lisa and Jack Nash genetically engineered a baby in an effort to save their dying little girl. Pastors and pundits said it was the first step down a stem-cell-paved road to Hell. Five years later, the Nashes give us an exclusive look at Heaven.
At Any Price
As far as Jack and Lisa were concerned, two-plus years had been wasted while their daughter weakened. Molly's platelets fell to 30,000. The Nashes sought solace in their faith, and the Jewish community rallied around them, holding blood drives at the synagogue and encouraging members to join the National Bone Marrow Registry. With luck the Nashes might find a good enough match—one that would have an 18 percent chance of succeeding. Daily life for the Nashes became a long, vaporous moment in which they tried to keep one eye on the future and the other on Molly's every move.
The extended family spent endless hours together simply celebrating Molly's existence, lavishing love on her. Each day, each step, each laugh, each doll, each bath, each bedtime story was precious, and perhaps Molly's last. Family gatherings were routine rather than rare, with huge home-cooked meals as the centerpiece. And prayer. There was lots of prayer. Lisa, as she says, "never questioned God, never asked 'why me?' I knew He would give me the answers, the solutions." Every Friday when Lisa would light her candles for prayer, Jack would joke that the candles would melt down because she prayed so long.
In October 1998, the Nashes heard of a place they thought might answer those prayers. The Reproductive Genetics Institute, a Chicago-based company, had also been performing PGD. In January, Jack, Lisa, and Molly flew to Chicago and met with Dr. Charles M. Strom, one of the center's geneticists. When they walked into his office, Molly immediately crawled into the big-shouldered Strom's lap. Whereas Dr. Wagner had wanted to keep personal distance between himself and his patients, Strom chuckled as Molly climbed onto him. He asked the family to call him "Buck." In Strom, Lisa saw "a warm smile and a big heart that you can see from outside."
Jack and Lisa explained to Strom that what they wanted was to have a healthy child who would also be a bone marrow donor for Molly. Dr. Strom agreed to take their case. For inspiration, he inked an important date near Molly's 13th birthday on his calendar. "That was the thing for Lisa and me through this," says Strom. "We wanted to dance at Molly's bat mitzvah."
With a renewed sense of hope, Lisa once again began in vitro. This time, of the multiple eggs extracted, Strom located a pair of healthy embryos. Both were tissue matches, and both were implanted. And Lisa got the wonderful news that she was pregnant. Just as Jack and Lisa had begun talking about setting up the nursery down the hall from Molly, Lisa miscarried.
For Jack and Lisa, the loss was unbearable; so, too, was watching their now 5-year-old daughter deal with the side effects of her medication. Molly was taking a synthetic form of the male sex hormone intended to stimulate her blood production. It was a short-term solution that came with a humiliating price. In addition to liver damage, androgen's side effects include pubic hair, muscle definition, and a deepening voice. Molly's body was shoved into adolescent male puberty.
Because of the prayers, because of their family, because their little girl's life was at stake, Jack and Lisa refused to give up. They repeated IVF and PGD in June and again in September to no avail. After the never-ending stress of in vitro fertilization, PGD, and gut-wrenching waiting periods, Lisa and Jack were physically and emotionally depleted. Hope, the Nashes discovered, is a double-edged sword: The powerful emotion sustained them through each day but also deepened their despair with every failed attempt.
All Jack and Lisa had to show for their four IVF attempts was a weakened child and a mountain of bills. Jack's salary as general manager of a Denver hotel did little to make a dent in expenses. Each in vitro, which is not covered by insurance, cost roughly $15,000, plus an additional $6,000 for PDG and HLA testing. And that was on top of Molly's endless medical expenses for procedures and medications. Back in Minnesota, Dr. Wagner was convinced that Molly would soon develop preleukemia. He called off any more IVF attempts—he believed there was simply not enough time. Wagner began to search for an unrelated donor.