By Bobby Hundley, UNC Health Foundation
Elizabeth and Trevor Casey met in 2012 and began dating soon after. The couple got married while in graduate school in 2016 and knew that they wanted to start a family as soon as possible.
“One of the things that first attracted me to Trevor was how much he loved his family and how important starting a family of his own was,” Elizabeth said.
The Caseys began trying to get pregnant shortly after their May wedding, but after more than a year – a period of time that included an early miscarriage – Elizabeth began fertility testing as one of around 20 percent of patients who experience unexplained infertility. The couple started with intrauterine insemination (IUI) in the fall of 2017, but their attempts were unsuccessful. It was around this time that Elizabeth spoke with a friend and co-worker who referred the Caseys to Jennifer Mersereau, MD, MSCI, and the staff at UNC Fertility.
A family of care providers
Elizabeth and Trevor first met with Dr. Mersereau later that fall, and Elizabeth says the connection was made right away.
“Instantaneously, I felt like it was what we needed,” Elizabeth said of the environment at UNC Fertility. “It gave me the peace that this was going to happen. It had been a question mark, but the care I was given and the personal connections were what we needed. Dr. Mersereau made us feel like it was more of a family that was going to be taking care of us.”
According to Dr. Mersereau, that doesn’t happen by accident.
“Our general philosophy is that this is a stressful process that doesn’t always work, but we want to make this as good of an experience as it can be for the patients,” Mersereau said. “We’re going to be here and be supportive when it works and when it doesn’t.”
“I think the real beauty of our clinic is that this philosophy goes from the front desk staff, to the people who draw blood, to the nurses, to the embryologists, to the doctors. It’s how we hire people – you have to be compassionate.”
The Caseys and Dr. Mersereau made a plan to start in vitro fertilization (IVF) in early 2018, and Elizabeth was fortunate to have six viable embryos. After two unsuccessful attempts at IVF, the family was undeterred, due in large part to the confidence they had in their care team.
“We didn’t lose hope,” Elizabeth said. “We knew we were in great hands. (Dr. Mersereau) was really understanding that we didn’t want to wait to keep trying.”
Following a third transfer in early April, Elizabeth’s numbers were the best they’d been. After eight weeks, she graduated from UNC Fertility to her OB-GYN, just hours before driving to Richmond where the couple was moving following a new job for Trevor.
“I got in the car from our appointment at UNC and drove to our new house in Richmond,” Elizabeth said. “We just felt so fortunate to have started at UNC when we did, the timing was perfect.”
After a challenging delivery process that included 50 hours of labor and a stay in the ICU, Elizabeth and Trevor welcomed Paul to their family in December 2018.
Reconnecting with UNC Fertility
Now with a new home and a new baby in Richmond, the Caseys began to discuss expanding their young family. Nine months postpartum, they were surprised to get pregnant right away. Unfortunately, uterine damage from Paul’s delivery resulted in a miscarriage as well as additional surgery for Elizabeth. It was around this time that they met with their OB-GYN and decided to reach out to Dr. Mersereau again.
“One of the things I loved about UNC Fertility was the direct line of communication,” Elizabeth said. “Our nurse Kim was so open to questions and just helped make us feel so comfortable and so supported. That ability to easily communicate was really special.”
After reconnecting with the staff at UNC in early 2020, the couple had an unsuccessful embryo transfer just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a second transfer scheduled for that summer, Elizabeth got pregnant naturally with their second son, Wells, who was born in January.
“Even though (Wells) wasn’t one of our transfers from UNC Fertility, I don’t believe we would have had him without the support of Dr. Mersereau and the plan she was able to develop for my fertility.”
Seeds of support
Elizabeth and Trevor began discussing charitable giving on their honeymoon, moved by the love and generosity they’d experienced during their wedding.
“When Trevor and I got married, we felt so blessed,” Elizabeth said. “We both felt like we needed to give back meaningfully to the world.”
They waited to find a cause that would be personal to them, and the birth of their first child made that cause obvious.
“As soon as we were in the clear with our pregnancy with Paul and especially after he was born, the conversations just kept coming up. Once we went through IVF with Dr. Mersereau, we knew it would be related to supporting that work at UNC Fertility.”
After discussions with Dr. Mersereau and staff at the UNC Health Foundation, the Caseys decided to create a fund to support fertility intervention and demonstrate their appreciation for the care they received at UNC Fertility’s Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI). The couple is making an initial gift of $20,000 to establish the Paul and Maxwell Casey Fund at UNC Fertility and is working to create matching gifts of that amount through support from friends and family.
For Dr. Mersereau, this type of support from a former patient is extra special.
“It’s just amazing. When I got the initial email from Elizabeth, I was blown away by her thoughtfulness, her compassion and her empathy for others who are struggling with fertility challenges.”
She credits the welcoming atmosphere created by the entire staff at UNC Fertility for helping to establish that level of connection to patients.
“I think it’s a family approach – patients are here a lot when they come for treatments – having someone recognize you when you walk in the door or be available after hours for questions can make all the difference.”
Providing hope and support
As patients have evaluated their priorities during the pandemic, Dr. Mersereau says the UNC Fertility clinic is busier than ever. She wants UNC and the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility to be a place of hope and comfort during a challenging and often frightening time. She also knows how impactful funds such as those being raised by the Caseys can be.
“There’s so much need in this world,” Dr. Mersereau said. “Every day we have people who are struggling with this part of it, and any financial support is so helpful.”
Elizabeth counts among her many blessings a robust insurance plan at her previous employer that allowed the Caseys to face minimal out-of-pocket costs when trying to conceive early on. That only strengthened her resolve to find a way to make a difference for those who may face financial barriers to starting a family.
“When we realized how expensive it can be, you start to understand how having a family should not be something that is only available to a certain population. We felt really strongly that creating a fund that would financially assist patients is the way we wanted to give back.”
“To experience what we’ve experienced in parenthood, we can’t imagine not having had that chance. To share that opportunity with someone else and possibly being able to provide that journey is so important.”