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Formula 1 worker shares her egg donor story to encourage others to give infertile couples a chance to start a family

Hundreds of people a year in Kent and Medway rely on medical help to conceive.

Like many other health treatments, IVF has been massively affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hollie's egg donation story. Video Credit: Hollie Bennett and Altrui

But as the service looks at getting back up and running, an egg donor has told her story in the hope of encouraging others to also sign up.

Hollie Bennett works in the glamorous world of Formula 1 racing as a co-ordinator for the track systems team.

Her work involves looking after a 30-man crew which deals with logistics, such as budget planning, race calenders and team attendance.

The 24-year-old decided to donate in 2016 after repeatedly hearing radio adverts on the subject.

She said: "My dad, Ian, is adopted as my nan couldn't have children, so I decided to look into it.

"I just thought it would be amazing to offer infertile couples a chance to have a child."

Hollie Bennett first became an egg donor in 2016
Hollie Bennett first became an egg donor in 2016

She signed up with the London-based company Altrui and was matched with a couple desperate for a baby.

The following year, they had a daughter.

"My donation took place at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital. Two weeks prior to the operation you have to inject yourself with medication to help increase the amount of eggs you produce," she said.

"When it comes to the operation, it's a small, internal procedure that happens under general aesthetic.

"During my first donation, 36 of my eggs were taken.

"It really wasn't intrusive at all, when you're taking the injections you do feel and look quite bloated due to the increase of eggs in your ovaries, and it's obviously all a bit swollen after the procedure, but I was able to leave the hospital on the same day."

Hollie, her sister Alice Bennett and mum Claire Durrant
Hollie, her sister Alice Bennett and mum Claire Durrant

Hollie, who lives in Cliffe, Medway, and is due to donate again to the same couple, has become a Altrui ambassador.

Last week she posted a video on Instagram and Facebook explaining why others should also donate and received 3,000 views in hours.

Across the UK, thousands of people a year need help to conceive, with 363 couples/women in Kent and Medway alone given NHS-funded treatment during 2018/19.

Although the coronavirus delayed her next donation, Hollie is keen to have the procedure again.

"I decided to donate for the same couple who I never met as I thought about the relationship I have with my sister." Hollie said.

"Alice and I are stuck at the hip, so if I'm able to give that couple a second child and their daughter a sibling, it would just be wonderful."

3d rendering ovum with needle for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization
3d rendering ovum with needle for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization

Although donations are anonymous, Hollie has signed a form which would allow the child to find out their true background.

She added: "If the parents want to tell their child when they're older, the child will have the opportunity to contact me if they want.

"But I can't reach out to them. I don't know how I'd feel if or when that happens. It must be quite overwhelming and emotional in a good way."

Altrui, which was founded in 2010, specialise in finding, matching and looking after altruistic egg donors. It charges around £2,940 for egg recipients across the UK.

Its spokesman Giulia Sciota said: "The need for donor blood and sperm is well-known and recognised, yet so few women know they can donate their eggs.

"A lot of our work revolves around ensuring women know exactly what they’re signing up for, that all of their questions are answered and they have space to make the decision if they’d like to go ahead in their own time.

Hollie and her dad, Ian Bennett
Hollie and her dad, Ian Bennett

"The second piece of our work is what we call one-to-one matching, where we pair one donor’s eggs with a recipient who needs their help.

"We have a long list of women and couples. The reasons vary, but there is usually immense heartache in their stories.

"Some women are born without ovaries, while others have ovaries damaged from cancer treatment. About one in 100 under 40s experience a premature menopause.

"This can happen early on, as young as teenage years. Some women are able to produce eggs but the eggs are low quality or at risk of carrying a serious genetic condition. Others, after years and years of trying, simply cannot conceive with their own eggs for no medical reason at all.

"We match our generous donors with recipients who share their values and interests, who we think would really get on if they were to meet, which is not allowed in the UK, as donors need to be anonymous.

"We also don’t work as an egg bank – all of a donor’s eggs goes to one woman or couple, helping them increase the chances of pregnancy and allowing for a genetically-related sibling."

Hollie and her friends, Lucy Haylor, Fern Coveney, Jane Angus and Josie Hopwood
Hollie and her friends, Lucy Haylor, Fern Coveney, Jane Angus and Josie Hopwood

Hollie added: "One in eight women are infertile and we're crying out for more like myself to come forward.

"You're matched anonymously, after you go through all of the checks to make sure you have no genetic or hereditary illnesses and are healthy enough to proceed."

Women between 18 and 35 are eligible and when donating eggs, there is a small risk of becoming infertile, but throughout the process, women are screened and have regular check ups.

There are possibilities they could have future problems with their ovaries, but the risks are very low.

Meanwhile fertility treatments across the county are set to get back under way.

Screen showing researcher looking in a microscope fertilising an egg. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection
Screen showing researcher looking in a microscope fertilising an egg. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection

A Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group spokesman said: “Services are regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

"After receiving clinical advice in March, it directed services to be temporarily ‘wound down’ to protect the wellbeing of patients.

“For the majority, this meant pausing treatment at a safe and appropriate point; those who were in the middle of a treatment ‘cycle’ were able to complete.

"Treatments to preserve fertility have continued for those who have been treated for other conditions when that care can impact fertility – such as with some cancer medicines.

“On May 1, HFEA announced fertility centres could apply to restart their programmes from May 11, subject to appropriate measures being in place to protect patients from coronavirus.

"We’re pleased to confirm the centres we contract in Kent and Medway have these measures in place and they will be reopening in the coming weeks."

For more details on how to become a donor, visit the HFEA website.

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Read more: All the latest news from Kent


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