Men with spinal cord injuries become fathers with fertility treatment in Miami

Men with spinal cord injuries become fathers with fertility treatment in Miami

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A spinal cord injury can be life-altering – and the potential for infertility is often a devastating blow as well.

Among men who experience spinal cord injuries (SCIs) in the U.S., nearly eight in 10 have fertility and reproduction issues due to erectile dysfunction or poor sperm quality.

But one clinic in Miami, Florida, is on a mission to help men with SCIs start a family.

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The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has aided in the birth of 200 babies since the 1990s.

Fox News Digital spoke with Dr. Emad Ibrahim, director of the Male Fertility Research Program, about how “amazing” this achievement has been.

A patient with a spinal cord injury enters the lab with Dr. Emad Ibrahim at his clinic in Miami, Florida. (The University of Miami)

The doctor said “nothing beats the feeling” of finding out one of his patients is expecting a child.

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“Every time we get an email with an ultrasound picture that shows the baby … it’s a mission accomplished,” he said. “It’s the most gratifying sensation you’ll ever have.”

Ibrahim, an associate professor of urology and neurological surgery at UMiami, said the clinical research program is “very unique” in its quest to help men father their own children through techniques rarely found elsewhere.

eric rosemary, dr. emad ibrahim and darris straughter in a split image

New dads Eric Rosemary, left, and Darris Straughter, right, both underwent procedures with the Miami Project under the direction of Dr. Ibrahim, center. (Eric Rosemary; The University of Miami)

While men with erectile dysfunction can be given medication to address this issue, men with ejaculatory dysfunction face a bigger challenge that the Miami clinic addresses through two unique procedures.

The two techniques include penile vibratory stimulation and electroejaculation, both FDA-approved and selected based on the nature of the spinal cord injury.

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The electroejaculation machine activates and contracts the glands responsible for producing sperm. (The machine is also available in Sweden, its only other location besides Miami.)

This method is guaranteed to be successful “almost 100% of the time,” according to Ibrahim.

‘Amazing’ fatherhood

Men from all over the U.S., and even outside the country, have come to seek this treatment including Darris Straughter, 44, a Miami native.

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Straughter was a victim of gun violence in 2018, he told Fox News Digital in an interview.

While sitting at a traffic light, he was shot eight times. The injuries left him paralyzed from the chest down.

darris straughter and daughter

Darris Straughter plays with his daughter, who will turn 2 on Aug. 5, 2024. Straughter was paralyzed by gunfire in 2018. (The University of Miami)

“I don’t feel anything,” he said. “It’s a crazy situation. You just have to roll with the punches and keep moving and try to stay positive.”

Despite the incident, Straughter — who already had one child of his own — was determined to provide children for his wife.

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“I kept saying, ‘She deserves a kid,’” he said. “She was by my side the whole time. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to try any way possible to make it happen.’”

Straughter received treatment from Ibrahim, which ultimately led to his wife’s successful pregnancy. His daughter is now almost 2 years old and is “healthy and strong,” he said.

“[Fatherhood] is amazing. It’s so joyful,” he said. “I just love everything about it.”

the straughter family at disney

“I pray God continues to guide us on a great path,” Straughter, pictured with his wife and daughter, told Fox News Digital. (The University of Miami)

Fellow Florida resident Eric Rosemary, 46, also found success at the Miami facility after a Memorial Day accident 15 years ago left him paralyzed.

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“I was on a boat … in West Palm Beach, and I fell off the boat and shattered my C4, C5, C6 vertebrae and became a quadriplegic,” he said. 

Rosemary, who has been married for eight years, told Fox News Digital that he turned to the Miami Project when the timing was right to have kids.

eric rosemary and his family

Eric Rosemary of Florida, pictured with his family, said the Miami Project is “leading the way” in helping people with spinal cord injuries adapt. (Eric Rosemary)

Rosemary was previously involved in clinical trials with the project.

He and his wife have since had two sons, born in 2020 and 2023, after three attempts at the first pregnancy and two attempts with the second.

“When you first get injured, there are so many other things you have to worry about,” Rosemary said.

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“In my 30s, I was able to cope with having a spinal cord injury, rebuilding my business, re-building my life, then getting married and having my boys,” he continued. “I was fortunate enough that I had the time to do that.” 

As patients who have suffered from an SCI mainly focus on mobility and medical care at first, sexual function is usually “brushed off,” Ibrahim noted.

straughter family at disney

Darris Straughter, pictured in the background with his daughter, is now a stay-at-home dad. His wife is shown in the foreground.  (The University of Miami)

“They rarely talk about fertility,” he said. “And unfortunately, we still have some rehab centers in remote areas in the country that will tell these patients, ‘Forget it. You’re not going to have any children.’”

He added, “If [providers] knew that our program exists, and they could actually refer the patients to us, that would be of great help.”

Ongoing research

As the Miami Project’s procedures have shown excellent results, more research on a potential fertility treatment is underway, Ibrahim revealed.

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The program was awarded a $3.24 million, 40-year grant in July 2023 from the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct a clinical trial to study a drug called Probenecid, which was previously used to treat gout.

Dr. Emad Ibrahim headshot

Dr. Ibrahim specializes in reproductive and sexual dysfunction in men with spinal cord injuries. He said “nothing beats the feeling” of finding out one of his patients is expecting a child. (The University of Miami)

Through years of research, Ibrahim and his team found that this drug targets the internal issues that some SCI patients experience, he said.

In the pilot study, which included 18 patients with spinal cord injuries, Ibrahim reported that all participants saw improved sperm quality.

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“The medication is safe, and we have the publication to support that it works,” he said.

The larger clinical trial is currently ongoing as the Miami Project is in search of new volunteers.

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