Philip and Rachel Ridgeway: Oregon couple welcomes twins born from embryos frozen 30 years ago
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE: Lydia and Timothy Ridgeway have the honor of being born Oct 31 from what may be the longest frozen embryos ever to result in a live birth, according to the National Embryo Donation Center. The previous record was held by Molly Gibson, who was born in 2020 from an embryo that had been frozen for more than 27 years. Molly stole the record from her sister Emma, who was conceived from a 24-year-old frozen embryo.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains success rates and reproductive technology data but does not document how long embryos were frozen, so it is possible that an older frozen embryo was used. However, there is no evidence that a live birth has ever resulted from an older embryo.
“There is something mind-boggling about it,” Philip Ridgeway said as he and his wife cradled their newborn twins at their home outside Portland, Oregon. “I was 5 years old when God gave life to Lydia and Timothy, and he’s been preserving that life ever since. In a sense, they’re our oldest children, even though they’re our smallest children,” Ridgeway added. The Ridgeways are parents to four other children, aged 8, 6, 3, and almost 2, none conceived via IVF or donors.
The embryos belonged to an anonymous married couple, extracted for the purpose of in-vitro fertilization. They used a 34-year-old egg donor, and the spouse was in his early 50s. The embryos were frozen on April 22, 1992. They were preserved for nearly three decades on microscopic straws in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of almost 200 degrees below zero, in a container resembling a propane tank at a West Coast fertility center, as reported by CNN.
The embryos were stored at the lab until 2007, when the couple who donated them decided to donate them to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the hopes that another couple might be able to use them. According to Dr John Gordon, the Ridgeways' physician, the five embryos were transported to Knoxville overnight in specially designed tanks.
“We’ve never had in our minds a set number of children we’d like to have,” Philip said. “We’ve always thought we’ll have as many as God wants to give us, and ... when we heard about embryo adoption, we thought that’s something we would like to do.”
Embryo donation is the term used in medicine to describe the procedure the Ridgeways underwent. It's possible for IVF patients to create more embryos than they need. Extra embryos can be donated to people who want to have children, cryopreserved for future use, or used in training or research to advance the field of reproductive medicine.
Embryos must adhere to particular US Food and Drug Administration eligibility requirements, including being screened for specific infectious diseases, in order to be donated, just like any other human tissue. “We weren’t looking to get the embryos that have been frozen the longest in the world,” Philip Ridgeway said. “We just wanted the ones that had been waiting for the longest.”
The Ridgeways specifically inquired about a category known as "special consideration" when looking for donors, indicating that it had been challenging to locate recipients for these embryos, for whatever reason. They browsed a donor database to choose their embryos. The length of time the embryos had been stored in the freezer was not disclosed, but it did include information about the donors' racial background, age, height, weight, medical history, education, occupation, and preferred music and movies. There are pictures of the parents and their kids in some files if they have any.