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Low-cost Calgary IVF clinic took advantage of the ‘vulnerable and desperate,’ woman says

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Several Calgary women are raising concerns about the care they received at a private fertility clinic that has been without a full-time doctor since it opened more than a year ago.

Effortless IVF — which has plans to open clinics in Ottawa and Toronto — bills itself as a more affordable alternative to traditional in vitro fertilization, but some patients say their treatment was fraught with delays, confusion and frustration.

The company says it’s the only clinic of its kind in Canada that reduces costs by incubating eggs and sperm in a cylinder inside a woman’s body, avoiding expensive lab work and incubators. It also offers a simplified treatment, with less medication and fewer doctors appointments all — it claims — while offering similar birth rates to traditional IVF.

“I have nothing but sadness and disappointment with that clinic,” said Tanya Driscoll, 37, who has been trying to conceive for 10 years.

Driscoll and her husband became some of Effortless IVF’s first so-called “founding customers” when they made a payment of $4,000 before the doors opened.

But early delays with the opening meant the couple didn’t begin treatment until a year after making that initial payment.

‘Delay after delay after delay’

Once their treatment started, the clinic was able to produce one good embryo and Driscoll says that’s when her experience went from “bad to worse.”

She struggled to make an appointment to have the frozen embryo transferred into her uterus because — with no doctor on staff — the clinic’s Montreal-based medical director was flying in for days at a time to conduct appointments.

“Every month it was ‘well, the doctor’s not available. He’s not going to be in Calgary.’ There was delay after delay after delay,” said Driscoll.

The embryo transfer was eventually done, but according to Driscoll it happened eight days after an ultrasound showed her uterus was ready and she ultimately did not become pregnant.

“It just seemed like they were constantly adjusting, trying to make it so that you would fit [the doctor’s] schedule…. And anybody who is familiar with how the female body works, that’s not how it works,” said Driscoll.

After paying the clinic $6,000, Driscoll wrote to Alberta’s health minister with her concerns.

“I absolutely feel unfortunately that we wasted two years,” she said. “Those are two precious years we’re never going to get back.”

‘Giant money grab’

Sandra Lavery and her husband put down a $500 deposit with Effortless IVF in May 2018 and have yet to set foot in the clinic.

“I think that they’re taking advantage of a population that’s vulnerable and desperate,” she said.

Sandra Lavery gave Effortless IVF a $500 deposit in May and has yet to see a doctor or a nurse. (Jennifer Lee/CBC News)

Lavery, who initially contacted Effortless IVF in April, says she was told at the time that she could have the procedure done as early as June.

While she has been sent for blood work and an ultrasound, she hasn’t had an appointment with a doctor or a nurse.

“They kept putting me off. So by September, I was getting suspicious,” said Lavery, who then asked for her money back.

“It seems like a giant money grab. It doesn’t seem like anybody’s watching them or making sure that they’re providing the services they’re saying that they can.”

While Sandra initially received no response to her request for a refund, a cheque for half her original deposit arrived in her mailbox six days after CBC News initially contacted the company for a response.

‘It’s heart-wrenching’

Amber Smoch, 34, was stunned by what she calls disorganization and a lack of compassion during her time as a patient at Effortless IVF

“The entire experience was very sad. I was sad they didn’t call back. I was sad I didn’t connect with the doctor,” she said.

Smoch had an embryo transfer in February 2018 and it appeared as though she was pregnant.

But a nurse called her in late March to say her test results showed she’d miscarried and she was advised to stop her fertility medication and book a procedure to remove the tissue from her uterus.

According to Smoch, a nurse called back two days later to report the doctor, who was not in Calgary at the time, believed there was a chance she was still pregnant .

Smoch was told to resume her fertility medication — this time by injection to catch up on the two days she had gone without — and to cancel the procedure.

A week later an ultrasound confirmed what she had already been told — she had miscarried.

“It’s heart wrenching. It’s gutting,” said Smoch. “And to have the lack of support from the clinic — the chaos — it just adds insult to injury, really.”

Effortless responds

Effortless IVF opened its doors in Calgary more than a year ago without a full-time Calgary-based reproductive endocrinologist — or fertility specialist — and the clinic says it’s been working to recruit one ever since

“Since recently taking over as managing director, my focus has been on securing a full-time [reproductive endocrinologist] for Calgary, and expanding to provide service to the rest of Canada,” said Ric Ross in a statement emailed to CBC News. “I strive to provide safety to our patients and a good experience.”

In the email, Ross says they have found a physician from outside Canada who received specialty training at McGill University, but they’re still waiting for approval through Immigration and Citizenship Canada — something that’s expected “very soon.”

Up until May, the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Andrew Mok, was flying into Calgary once a month for up to 10 days at a time to see patients. During the summer, a physician from Edmonton travelled in twice to see patients and another doctor is expected to take over this month when treatments will resume.

“It is always our intention to provide services,” said Ross in his email.

Amber Smoch, pictured here with her husband David Feinstein, calls her experience at Effortless IVF “heartwrenching” and “gutting.” (Submitted by Amber Smoch)

According to Ross, patients who signed on in May and requested a refund have received one.

“I really try my very best to make things work for people in Calgary,” said Mok, a reproductive endocrinologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University.

He joined the clinic as its medical director in March 2017.

Mok says because the clinic has no physician on staff, it uses a system called “batching” — where birth control pills are used to adjust the menstrual cycles of a number of women to align with the days a doctor is in town.

That can lead to delays, he says, if a woman’s period doesn’t fall within the corresponding time period.

“This is a month or maybe even possibly a two- or three-month delay due to other things,” said Mok. “It’s still not that excessive because some [traditional] programs have a waiting period of up to a year or much longer.”

Mok says traditional IVF programs conduct batching to a lesser extent so they don’t have to operate on weekends and holidays, for example.

According to Mok, who has a full-time practice in Montreal, Effortless IVF conducts more “extensive” batching which won’t have to continue once a full-time physician is in place.

“Obviously … if you have somebody 100 per cent there, it’ll work a lot better and things will move more smoothly for sure,” he said. 

Batching ‘not ideal’

So why start offering the service before there is a full-time doctor on staff?

According to Mok, the clinic wanted to start treating the first so-called “founding” patients, like Tanya Driscoll, who were offered a better deal if they paid upfront, before the clinic opened.

“They’re choosing the lesser of two evils — to have batching. Obviously it’s not the ideal. We don’t want to do that, but this is the best way out because they have hundreds of patients, founding patients, waiting to be done,” he said.

It was also about getting the clinic off the ground and establishing a reputation so it could attract a specialist of its own, according to Mok.

“It’s not that there [are no] doctors. There are plenty. But it’s not attractive enough for them. So I go there to start from scratch to get things going to show them that it works because it’s brand new in Canada.

“In Dallas, Texas, it’s been going on for many years and it’s working very well,” said Mok.

He says he can’t yet release data, but says babies have been born as a result of the treatment offered through the Calgary clinic.

When it comes to specific patient concerns, Mok says there may be medical reasons for the delay in Driscoll’s embryo transfer and adjustments can be made at the last minute if the timing isn’t right.

“It may not be the doctor’s not available, it may be that she’s not ready,” said Mok.

As for Smoch’s claims that confusion led the clinic to second-guess its miscarriage diagnosis causing her more stress, Ross says he won’t comment on the specifics for confidentiality reasons but the clinic is in contact with its medical director by phone when needed and also has access to an on-call emergency physician who works out of the Foothills hospital.

“We do understand that this is [a] very stressful time in our patients’ lives, especially when they do not achieve a positive outcome. We do make every effort to give them the best chance at success and a support system to avoid confusion and prove the proper information,” he said.

Regulator keeps eye on clinic

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), which accredits non-surgical facilities and labs, Effortless IVF is operating under a provisional accreditation because it is a relatively new clinic.

“We’re aware of the issues they’re having with recruiting a physician,” said Steve Buick, CPSA spokesperson. “That’s normal for a small clinic like this that’s newer and doing a procedure that’s very specialized like the one they do.”

The CPSA says it’s in regular contact with the facility’s medical director and staff recently conducted a site visit. Buick says Effortless IVF is considered competent to do the procedures it advertises and no safety issues have been identified.

“We’re aware of the concerns,” he said. “And we’re willing to keep working with the facility to maintain their accreditation.”

According to Buick, the college can step in and wants to hear from patients if they have concerns about their medical care.

But as the regulator of physicians, he says, it’s difficult for the CPSA to intervene in a dispute between a private business and its customers.

“Over time, if the facility just cannot in general do the procedures that it’s telling patients to do, and especially if they’re promising services and over and over again failing to deliver them, then yes, that does begin to bring its status into question,” said Buick.

Recruiting more patients

Meanwhile, Effortless IVF is offering a free information session in Calgary on Oct. 29 and will have a booth at the Calgary Women’s Show on Oct. 21 and 22.

That worries Lavery — who is still hoping to get the rest of her deposit refunded.

She wonders why the clinic is recruiting new patients when it appears to be struggling to provide service to its current customers.

“I worry that … more people will give them their money and get nothing for it,” said Lavery.

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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