Las Vegas doctor turning futility to fertility

The turn of phrase that Carolyn Savage cherishes from her visits to Las Vegas goes like this: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”

In other words, people can make plans, but God determines how things will turn out.

So in a place where a museum is built to honor mobsters and free speech is used on the Strip to pass leaflets to visitors promising flesh delivered to their doorstep, what an Ohioan most remembers about Las Vegas is a direct translation from “The Imitation of Christ,” a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis.

If that doesn’t seem strange, consider this: She says she came to Las Vegas — where many residents still say you should head for the airport if you want to find a good doctor — because she wanted the best in medical care.

“After what happened to us, we were going to go with the best,” the 41-year-old Savage said in a phone call from her Sylvania, Ohio, home. “No one has a more stellar reputation in helping people with infertility than Dr. (Geoffrey) Sher.”

The babies crying in the background, 3-week-old twins Isabella and Reagan, Savage noted with a laugh, were brought into this world in large part because the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Las Vegas keeps finding newer and better treatment options so more men and women can fulfill their dream of having children.

You may remember Savage and her husband, Sean, from newspaper headlines and TV news programs.

In early 2009, 10 days after undergoing in vitro fertilization, the Savages learned Carolyn was pregnant.

With someone else’s child.

In a heartbreaking mixup, the Michigan fertility clinic where Carolyn underwent in vitro fertilization implanted another couple’s embryos into her uterus.

Carolyn Savage had become an unwitting surrogate for another family.

She cried until she could cry no more.

But the Savages never considered aborting the child or trying to fight for custody.

“We fell back on lessons we were taught,” Carolyn Savage said. “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us is what we thought about. We wanted the baby inside me to feel our love.”

After Savage give birth in September 2009, she and her husband handed over the baby to Paul and Shannon Morell of suburban Detroit without hesitation.

“It was the right thing to do,” Carolyn Savage said.

Still, she and her husband felt incomplete. They wanted another child in their family.

In 2010 they contacted Sher, a physician Oprah and “Nightline” call for insight into fertility medicine — an author and researcher, a prolific blogger who reaches thousands around the world on fertility issues at

Sher, who has been influential in the births of more than 16,000 babies, trained in England with Dr. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Edwards’ work led to the first “test tube,” or IVF, baby. A native of South Africa, Sher, who now has a national network of fertility clinics, opened the first private IVF program in the United States in 1982. In 2011 alone, patients from 30 states and 25 countries came to his Las Vegas clinic.

“I spoke to him for more than hour over the phone and he put me at ease,” Carolyn Savage recalled.

It was during that conversation that Savage first heard the maxim Sher lives by: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”

“I knew I had a small chance of having another child, but I felt he would put me in the best position for God to work,” she said.

Because of her physical condition — she would need a surrogate to deliver — Sher put her chances at 10 percent.

“The fact the Savages chose me as the doctor they trusted after their terrible experience was a great privilege,” Sher said.

One of Sher’s greatest privileges today, he says, is to have the means to offer women with cancer across the country a $10,000 egg freezing cycle for free. After they have finished chemotherapy and radiation, they still have the opportunity to conceive.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” said the physician who already has given hundreds of families who didn’t have the finances free fertility treatments. “It’s a privilege to be able to help people have families if they want them.”

Late last year Sher was excited to call the Savages. The last cycle of fertility treatments had worked. Twins were on the way.

“She went through a pregnancy that wasn’t hers lovingly, so people could have the joy of their child,” Sher said. “It was an honor to help such a person have children.”

Paul Harasim is the medical reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His column appears Mondays. Harasim can be reached at or 702-387-2908.

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