Fertility clinic opens to help northeastern families

Dr. Karen Splinter and Dr. Jennifer Jocko.

BY SANDY SIREN

Two Sudbury physicians, Karen Splinter (left) and Jennifer Jocko (right) have recently opened northeastern Ontario’s first fertility clinic − the NEO Fertility Clinic − in the warm and welcoming offices of their North Eastern Ontario Women’s Health Network practice at 1596 Regent St.
The two doctors, who share many of the same ideas, goals and frustrations, have been business partners since August 2014.
Before the clinic opened, women in the northeast seeking fertility treatment had to travel to southern parts of the province.
(North Shore Fertility Centre in Thunder Bay has been offering government-funded fertility treatments for several years.)
They heard many times from patients about the lack of fertility services in Sudbury. Women had to drive to Toronto for a five- or 10-minute ultrasound and then drive all the way back home the same day.
For some, seeking fertility treatment in the south is prohibitive either cost-wise or time-wise.
“We are trying to offer services so that people can go on with their lives while pursuing fertility investigations and treatment,” says Jocko.
Splinter tells the story of one woman who was told to take three weeks off work to go to Toronto for fertility investigations that are all now well within the scope of the NEO Fertility Clinic.
“It’s all about improving access and providing more patient-centred care,” says Jocko.
“Unfortunately, women’s health falls behind or is not prioritized at government levels, so the more that we can put an emphasis on it, the more we can improve women’s health in all facets, not just fertility.”
Splinter anticipates the need in northeastern Ontario is at least moderately high.
“Infertility affects anywhere between one in six and one in eight couples,” she explains. “There are a lot of reasons as to why we think that happens. Is it that more people are speaking out and seeking help? Is it environmental factors? It’s certainly age. A lot of couples now will choose to start their careers before trying to start their families. Time will tell just exactly how busy we will be.”
In their general practice, they already see patients from Manitoulin Island to Temiskaming Shores, from Timmins to North Bay, and many points in between. Their ultimate goal is one-stop shopping for women, whether it be for fertility, gynecological, or obstetrical purposes.
To start the process, patients of the NEO Fertility Clinic need a referral to the clinic from a primary care provider.
“We take their history, and often times just based on their history, we get an idea of perhaps why they’re not getting pregnant,” says Jocko.
“Then we go through some diagnostics to try to assess their cycle, as well as a semen analysis to see where the gap is. It could be a female factor related to ovulation or it could be a sperm problem.” Bloodwork and ultrasounds are done at the clinic, and at time of writing, the on-site sperm lab is nearing completion. Intrauterine inseminations will be done at the clinic as well.
Currently in vitro fertilization (IVF) is not available, but a partnership exists with a clinic in the south so that when northern residents need IVF, some of the tests can be done closer to home.
For IVF, “the major hurdle is that there’s a lot of bloodwork, a lot of ultrasounds, and a lot of visits,” explains Splinter.
“We’re hoping to do 90 percent of those investigations, monitoring, and visits here.”
The actual extraction of the eggs and the “major advanced science” of the procedure will be done in Toronto.
Both physicians are passionate about the work they do. Jocko sums it up by saying “to feel the emotion in the room at the end of a delivery is certainly where a lot of our motivation comes from.”

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