Long ago, even before they were engaged, Jennifer and Chris Thoma shared a vision of what their family would someday look like.
“We talked about it when we were dating. Two kids would be perfect,” Jennifer said. “We wanted a boy and a girl.”
A few years after they were married, the couple decided it was time to get started on making their vision a reality. But that proved harder than expected.
Months of trying to conceive without success stretched into years of frustration. The two, who live near Boonville, sought help from doctors in Columbia and elsewhere. They tried in vitro fertilization and other fertility techniques. Nothing worked.
“We had given up for it working for us at all,” Jennifer said.
So they turned to adoption. But this, too, led to years of waiting and disappointment. Their various efforts to adopt children from Missouri and China were unsuccessful.
By 2008, Jennifer and Chris had spent nearly a decade attempting to start a family, and still, there was no son or daughter.
Still, not ready to give up, they decided to try in vitro fertilization once more. They sought out a new doctor, Dr. Gil Wilshire, who had just begun practicing in Columbia two years earlier.
“We went through the process with Dr. Wilshire and he was pretty convincing that it was going to work out,” Jennifer said. “We put a lot of faith in that, but we were still a little skeptical.”
In July of 2008, Dr. Wilshire surgically removed egg follicles from Jennifer’s ovaries. In a lab, an embryologist inseminated the follicles with semen from Chris. From this process, 10 embryos were created.
Two of these embryos were then transferred into Jennifer’s uterus. The remaining eight were frozen.
Then, two weeks later, an amazing call came from Dr. Wilshire’s office. Jennifer was pregnant.
“It was almost unbelievable,” Jennifer said.
Dr. Wilshire continued to oversee the pregnancy for the first trimester. When everything looked fine, Jennifer and Chris went to an obstetrician.
Then, on April 9, 2009, Jennifer delivered a son at Boone Hospital Center.
The moment was overwhelming. After so many years and so much disappointment, she and Chris finally held a child in their arms.
They named him Casper, a name they had chosen a decade earlier.
“Seeing him was just an extraordinary moment for us,” Jennifer said. “There are pictures and you can see we’re just overjoyed.”
A photo of Casper hangs on a hallway wall inside Dr. Wilshire’s office.
It’s surrounded by hundreds of other photos showing babies he has helped bring into the world. To Dr. Wilshire, every photo is special.
“What makes this work so rewarding are those pictures,” he said. “Each one has a story.”
Dr. Wilshire went to medical school in New Jersey intending to become a plastic surgeon. But his outlook changed after spending two weeks on a rotation with a reproductive medicine team.
He saw how doctors could help couples through fertility issues. He watched how happy the patients became when it worked. He said it was like a light went off in his head.
“I knew this is what I want to do,” he said.
In 2006, he came to Columbia and joined Dr. Larry Penney’s clinic, Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine and Surgery. A few years later, Dr. Wilshire took over the practice.
While the clinic had a strong local reputation, Dr. Wilshire continued to push for improvement and better results. Today, the clinic’s success rates rival the best fertility clinics in the nation.
In 2010, 61 percent of the fertilized embryos Dr. Wilshire transferred into a mother’s uterus resulted in a live birth. That’s an astounding achievement given that most clinics succeed less than 40 percent of the time.
Dr. Wilshire said his success, in part, comes from having a highly educated staff and the latest technology.
The amazing birth rates are also a product of his clinic’s intense attention to detail.
“We don’t rush our work. We don’t let any detail fall through the cracks,” Dr. Wilshire said. “In vitro fertilization is a chain. For it to work every link must be iron-clad strong. If you have one weak link, everything falls apart.”
His affiliation with Boone Hospital is also a strong asset in his work. Dr. Wilshire said he greatly appreciates the collaboration among the hospital’s medical staff.
“It’s a privilege to work at Boone. It’s a fantastic facility, from stem to stern,” Dr. Wilshire said. “It’s nice to know I have world class people that have my back.”
Another, perhaps intangible, factor to his success is the empathy Dr. Wilshire shares with his patients. He knows what it’s like to be in their situation.
Among the hundreds of baby photos lining the walls of his office are the two children that matter to him most — his sons, Hunter, 7, and Miles, nine months.
Both were conceived using the same in vitro fertilization techniques he practices each day.
“It helped me have two beautiful babies,” Dr. Wilshire said. “When patients come in, I tell them, ‘Whatever I ask you to do, I’ve done it myself.’”
For Jennifer and Chris, having their son, Casper, has changed their lives in wonderful ways.
“Being a father is better than I ever expected,” Chris said.
They say Casper is inquisitive and an entertainer. Even at two years old, he has a knack for music. He likes to sing and play simple songs on his ukulele.
“I enjoy just listening to him and watching him,” Jennifer said. “He’s got quite a personality. He keeps us in stitches.”
Their success with Casper convinced the couple to try for a second child. After all, they had always wanted two.
With Dr. Wilshire’s help, Jennifer became pregnant again. This time, she and Chris had a daughter, who named Sadie. She was born Dec. 17, 2011.
With Sadie, their family is finally complete.
While it was a long journey, Jennifer and Chris were eventually given what they had hoped for long ago — a son and a daughter.
“I feel like they made our dream come true,” Jennifer said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”