“Why I got into Reproductive Medicine”
Founder & Medical Director, New York Fertility Services
To me, it has always been very intriguing why people do what they do in life. I have always held a strong belief that each of us has a unique mission and purpose for our brief visit on this planet. Some of us are lucky enough to reach that goal and that is when true excellence emerges. Anyone who has watched Tiger Woods play golf or Roger Federer play tennis – seeing such incredible talent and passion for their chosen field, cannot doubt that they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Does anyone doubt that Shaquille O’Neal came here to play basketball? I mean, how many people grow to that size anyway? I believe the same is true in all walks of life – be it art, medicine, law, engineering, performance arts – who doubted that Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were put on this earth to make music for us? Whatever the field, if the person is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, they can and will do it with passion and intensity. It won’t seem like work but instead like fun and they are able to work effortlessly and endlessly and inevitably to achieve significant success in their chosen field.
I believe I am one of those who is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing and I am grateful for that blessing. I was born into a family where my older brother, Eric, was severely brain damaged from an obstetrical birth injury. Constantly being exposed to his suffering, his seizures, doctors trying to restore his significantly deformed body, the anguish of my parents and his twin brother and my childhood attempts to make sense of all of this – I heard this inner voice and started having a constant dialogue with that voice. The voice kept telling me that there were reasons for everything and that as difficult, sad and painful as it was to witness this suffering around me, it was necessary and it was the way it was supposed to be.
One of the unintended consequences of the suffering around me was that I immersed myself completely in my studies growing up. I was attempting to compensate for my parents’ pain by becoming an excellent student and giving them something to smile about. I did very well at school and won numerous prizes along the way. Fortunately, I also enjoyed sports tremendously (a passion which exists to this day) so my childhood was also a lot of fun. I played state level field hockey in high school – not quite good enough for the national team.
Having been surrounded by doctors for most of my life who attended to my brother, I had a good sense of what the medical profession was all about. I frequently dialogued with the voice inside and it would advise me to go to medical school, which I eventually did. I immersed myself completely into this endeavor and won several awards along the way.
The Soweto Riots happened in 1976 in South Africa, as I was nearing the completion of medical school. I did an externship in Denver, Colorado that same year and discovered America – a tiny slice of it but enough of a taste to let me know that this was the country where I wanted to live. I applied for postgraduate training in America after deciding I wanted to become a Plastic Surgeon. I found out while waiting to interview for a plastic surgery training program in Denver that I had to have four years of general surgery under my belt to even be admitted to this program. I couldn’t imagine spending four years of my life doing general surgery so it was time to have another discussion with my inner voice. I drove to Colorado Springs to “find myself”. It was April and the weather was still crisp and I could see the snow capped Rockies off to the right on the journey south. I was deep in thought about what I was going to do. I had agonized for months about what branch of medicine to specialize in and had come up with Plastic Surgery and in one fell swoop, that dream was changed. I arrived in Colorado Springs late that afternoon and checked into a very cheap motel near the famed Broadmoor Hotel. I went for a walk in the mountains where it was gorgeous but quite cold. I was deep in thought questioning the direction I wanted my professional life to take. I have always enjoyed being close to nature — clarity and a reminder of the essence of life and what it means to be alive. In a sense, nature is my “religion”.
The next morning, I arose early and went for another walk in the mountains alone. On that walk, I decided I was going to specialize in OB-GYN. I drove back to Denver that afternoon and I was quite excited about the prospect of becoming an OB-GYN doctor. I had excelled at this during medical school having won an award and thoroughly enjoyed my obstetrics rotation. However, was I trying to make amends for the tragedy my brother, Eric, had suffered at the hands of an incompetent Obstetrician some 35 years ago? Candidly, those thoughts had not even entered my mind until I sat in the interview room at Harvard Medical School applying for a residency position on OB-GYN. Professor Friedman told me as we were discussing why I should be accepted to the program, that he believed I was trying to “rescue” my family tragedy. He asked me to write an essay on why I should be accepted to the program. I spent that entire weekend sitting on the bank of the gorgeous Charles River in Boston, working on that essay. It was in the late 1970’s before P.C.’s and word processors were readily available and each new draft of the essay, necessitated that I re-write the whole piece! When I handed the finished product to Professor Friedman on Monday morning, I told him that if he accepted me into the four-year program, I would make sure he never regretted his decision. That same day, he invited me to join the program. I ended my four- year Residency Training in OB-GYN at Harvard Medical School as Chief Resident. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my acceptance into the Residency, the OB-GYN program at Harvard was a referral center for New England for Infertility Disorders. Some of the foremost research in this area was being conducted by those with whom I was working. It was 1980 and Louise Brown, the first IVF baby in the world, had been born two years earlier. The place was buzzing with all kinds of research and activities. We would go to the Operating Room to extract an egg from the ovary in a natural cycle with a mini-laparotomy at 3:00am. Today, we do these procedures in the office under ultrasound guidance, after ovulation has been stimulated by medication to produce more than one egg, and we can schedule the procedure at a convenient time for all because our knowledge of Reproductive Endocrinology has grown so dramatically. I truly believe that a higher power had directed me to Harvard and I learned a great deal from a wonderful, intelligent group of people, many of who remain prominent within the field of Reproductive Medicine to this day.
When it came time to do my fellowship training, for family reasons, it was necessary to relocate to Houston, Texas. Fortunately, there was a great training program at Baylor College of Medicine. Coming out of Harvard, with good references, they accepted me with open arms. Baylor had a superb program in Endoscopic Surgery with lasers and I became an expert in this relatively new field, touring around the United States, teaching other doctors how to work with lasers. However, by this time I had decided I wanted to live in California. My timing was good because Dr. Richard Marrs, a former Texan, was building a world-class IVF program in Los Angeles. Richard had also trained at Baylor and knew some of my mentors quite well and they encouraged him to recruit me. After almost two years with Richard, I decided I was ready to branch out and open my own center. I founded a program that, under my direction, grew to become the largest provider of Assisted Reproductive Treatments in the Western United States. I was in Los Angeles for almost 18 years when, for personal reasons, I decided that it was time to move on. I was recruited to open and be the Medical Director of SIRM-New York where I worked for four years and quickly established it to become one of the larger centers in Manhattan.
In 2007, I left SIRM to start Batzofin Fertility Services. This center is dedicated to providing holistic infertility care, combining traditional Western methods with acupuncture and herbal medicine, nutrition counseling, psychological services and massage all offered by trained professionals in a single setting. I learned of these concepts while at Harvard and am now delighted to be incorporating these services for our patients. Just as it would be arrogant of Eastern practitioners to discount western medicine, the opposite is also true. After all, traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years! In April 2011, I changed the name of the practice to New York Fertility Services so it would reflect the additional physicians that practice here. Only the name has changed – our philosophy of customized, compassionate patient care using cutting edge western medicine combined with Eastern alternative treatments remains the same.
I have been influential in the births of over 10,000 babies from IVF and related techniques. Helping a traditional couple, single man, woman or alternative lifestyle couple or individual achieve the joys of parenthood by overcoming infertility is incredibly rewarding work. Like all walks of life, it certainly has its share of challenges. However the rewards are great. To hold a baby that once was a fresh embryo from our lab or a frozen embryo thawed and implanted is truly a reminder of the incredible gift of life! I love what I do and am fortunate to have done it at a very exciting time in the history of Reproductive Medicine, iin one of the most amazing cities in the world – New York City! New York Fertility Services will offer our patients a truly relaxed environment while treating fertility issues involving the entire body and mind as economically as possible. We know our patients will find their experience with us unique and hopefully successful. We will do everything we can to complete your family. My staff and I look forward to welcoming you to New York Fertility Services.