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Great Falls family goes the distance for IVF at Billings Clinic

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Posted at 9:16 AM, Jul 01, 2024

BILLINGS - Great Falls mom Desiree Vinson says she just loves dressing her two blue-eyed, blonde-haired toddler boys alike.

“They look like twins,” she says.

On this day, four-year old Rhett and two-year old Colt are wearing red and white striped t-shirts, looking all festive for upcoming Independence Day holiday, and in the true spirit of summer, each has a popsicle in hand.

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She dresses them like twins because the two boys not only look alike but share another special bond; both are IVF babies retrieved at the same time but born roughly two years apart.

“They just have this bond that is awesome,” she said.

On any given day, the Vinson family’s home is bustling, as both Rhett and Colt run about and play in their backyard sandpit. Older brother, 10-year-old Lane, is trying to be as helpful as can be while Mom and Dad tend to baby Drake, just one month old.

“We definitely have our hands full,” laughs Ty Vinson.

The Vinsons always dreamed of having a big family, according to Desiree.

“I am so glad that we did it,” she said. “And what if we hadn’t done it, then we wouldn’t have all this chaos and commotion and love.”

After months of trying to get pregnant for a second child, Desiree was having no luck.

“Basically, I found out I had low eggs,” she said.

And she’s not alone as fertility doctors across the nation see a surge in IVF, with one-third of all couples opting for the treatment.

But Montanans are at a disadvantage, especially those living in rural parts of the state.

Billing Clinic, located in Billings, is the only facility in Montana with the technology to do it, which means couples like the Vinsons are traveling hours for treatment.

“Eight-hour days, you go drive there, have your appointment and then you have lunch and come back,” said Desiree.

The Vinsons estimate they’ve made the 440-mile round trip trek from Great Falls to Billings as many as five times over the course of a year and a half to get both Rhett and Colt.

And they’re far from alone in the travel.

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“We have patients that come from all the way to Coeur D’Alene, all the way from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We’ve got some South Dakota people,” said Dr. Stacy Shomento.

Shomento has been with Billings Clinic since 2004, helping families grow.

“So I saw the need here in Montana,” she said.

When Billings Clinic opened its IVF center in 2010, doctors performed 52 cycles that year, according to Shomento.

That number increased to 500 in 2023, a surge of roughly a 1,000%.

However, IVF treatment is coming under fire across the nation, first after the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling on February 16, declaring embryos created through in vitro fertilization be given the same rights as children.

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That ruling forced the hands of doctors, pausing services and putting doubt in the hearts of families who were hopeful their family would be able to grow

While lawmakers have since passed new legislation to protect IVF in that state, reproductive rights advocates are putting the nation on notice; because this year, fetal personhood bills have been introduced in at least 14 states.

While Montana is not one of the states considering legislation, at least not yet, families like the Vinsons could be caught in the cross hairs.

“From that perspective, I don’t want the availability of IVF to ever go away for families who are searching for it,” said Ty Vinson.

However, those with Billings Clinic say they pride themselves on being ethical.

“We’re not interested in designer babies, we’re not interested in choosing the gender of your baby,” she said. “I at least feel like I have really good boundaries on that.”

She says the science is there, pointing to how doctors don't have to transfer multiple embryos to get pregnancies anymore.

“So we only have to transfer one embryo,” she said. “Last, year our single embryo transfer rate was 99 percent."

Still, the Vinsons say they’d do it all again.

Just one month ago, the Vinsons welcomed baby Drake naturally - a blessing both Desiree and Ty say they couldn’t have imagined was possible after their struggle with fertility.

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“We were lucky like that, I guess,” said Desiree.

This as she snuggles the newborn in her arms, while her other three boys enjoy the summer day in their Great Falls backyard.

“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Ty.