LAKELAND, Fla. – Nine-day-old Jarrell Clayton Hepler or "JC" for short is a miracle baby.
- Hollie Jo Hepler was born without a uterus
- Hepler's sister-in-law offered to her baby
- Jarrell Clayton "JC" Hepler was born May 30
His mother, Hollie Jo, has Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MKRH) syndrome, a condition where she was born without a uterus. She got the diagnosis when was 16.
It didn’t stop her husband, Joe, from marrying her. She told him early on in their relationship, and he recalled telling her, "You’re going to have to say a lot worse than that to try to get rid of me."
The couple has been married for five years. Around their second wedding anniversary, they signed up for a medical trial to have a uterus transplanted into Hollie. Days before they were to make the trip to the Cleveland Clinic, they learned Hollie Jo didn’t qualify for the medical trial.
Joe’s sister PJ Willis had already offered to carry their baby. With this medical trial opportunity not working out, the couple opted to give it a try.
"I was in a season where I was spending a lot of time praying and figuring out my future and I just felt like god told me it was time to have my own children so one day I could carry for them," Willis said.
After Willis had her two children, they began working with Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine. The summer of 2018, they began the in vitro fertilization process, taking daily injections. Then in September, doctors transferred Hollie and Jo’s embryo into Willis’s uterus.
The IVF worked on the first try.
"Our case is pretty rare. A lot of women go through IVF and it doesn’t work on the first time. Even the transfers, it’s not a guarantee that the transfer will work and take in a uterus in a surrogate or gestational carrier. So we are very well aware that how our story has gone has been a miracle," Hollie Jo Hepler said.
The entire process has been a financial miracle as well. The couple said the process cost between 50-75 thousand dollars, and would’ve cost $100,000 if they had to use an agency to find a surrogate. Hollie Jo said insurance companies wouldn’t cover the in vitro fertilization and she initially struggled to find coverage for Willis’ pregnancy. Eventually, she said they got help from Medi-Share. Their church family at Grace City Church pitched in, along with their friends and family.
"We have a church family here in Lakeland that has supported us like we’ve never been supported before. Our immediate families have been so supportive. Friends from New York, California, Washington, Florida they all donated," Hollie Jo Hepler said.
JC Hepler was born on May 30, 2019. It’s a gift the couple is forever grateful for.
"PJ and Hollie really are just two of the strongest, compassionate, caring people I know," Joe Hepler said through tears.
"I’m really glad that I did it. I think there were moments when I almost let fear steal this journey from me," Willis said, holding back tears.
"I remember the day he was born. I broke down and started crying. It was in that moment I truly believed she is one of the most remarkable heroes I’ve ever met," Hollie Jo Hepler said.
The couple is now adjusting to parenthood and enjoying the biological child they always dreamed of.