Robert Kiltz figures he has assisted in the conception of approximately 10,000 babies over the past 20 years. Some of those children and their parents gather at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse every summer for a reunion of sorts.
“I’m just amazed when I see all those families,” says Kiltz after completing his day at the CNY Fertility Center in Syracuse, one of three offices. “It’s humbling.”
Kiltz, 57, opened the center in 1995 after relocating to Skaneateles from California—where, as a young physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, he completed a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. In opening CNY Fertility, Kiltz established the first in vitro fertility, or IVF, program in Central New York.
The process involves removing one or more eggs from a woman’s ovaries—or using eggs donated from a third party—and fertilizing them with her partner’s sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg or eggs are then transferred into the woman’s womb, or into that of a surrogate, after a few days.
Although intrigued by the scientific and technical aspects of advanced reproductive technologies, Kiltz has always been more interested in the personal side of treatment.
“As an obstetrician, I loved delivering babies,” he says. “Today, I enjoy the connection with the patients the most—helping them understand the process.”
Over the years, Kiltz has learned more about the benefits of taking a holistic approach to health care. When appropriate, Kiltz incorporates nontraditional therapies into patient care, and he is a staunch believer in the importance of the mind/body connection and its role in human fertility.
“When I first started practicing, I’m not sure I understood how important people’s attitudes were,” he says. “But I have definitely had patients who made changes to their approach, and their positive attitudes overcame scientific challenges.”
Kiltz says while he has also seen the benefits of positive thinking, embracing faith, and letting go in his own life, he does not see these approaches as a substitute for evidence-based medicine.
“Most people still prefer a shot, surgery, or a pill,” he says. “They want to know what to do. These other factors, such as belief or faith, I talk about that and offer it up. I believe my job is to share what I think helps so many. Maybe my job is to help you understand that some things are simpler than we think.”
Kiltz, who also founded and directs the CNY Healing Arts Wellness Center and Spa in Syracuse, notes that therapies such as yoga and acupuncture have been used for centuries. He advises patients to reduce stress and incorporate practices that help them reduce negative thoughts. Kiltz gets inquiries from all over the world, and sometimes patients’ problems can be helped with a single consultation.
“Sometimes, fertility is less about what we do, and has much to do with what we think about,” he says, adding that patients who come to him are often stressed about their situations. When the body is stressed, it triggers a fight-or-flight response that, over time, becomes damaging. “Reducing stress helps many people with health issues.”
“That which we fight always fights back,” Kiltz says. “But I work to share this as part of our Western approach, not instead of.”
Kiltz says while many of his patients are women who are experiencing fertility problems due to the age or health of their eggs, there are plenty of males with fertility issues. Anatomical and genetic factors can also cause infertility.
When Debby Bedell and her husband, Joe, met Kiltz in 2005, they had a unique situation. Joe had a son from a previous relationship, and they had conceived a son together. During that pregnancy, Debby developed HELLP syndrome, a potentially life-threatening form of pre-eclampsia. She was advised not to carry another baby.
“We were planning to adopt when my cousin approached me and asked to be our surrogate,” says Bedell, responding by email. “She truly wanted to do this for us knowing how badly I wanted another baby. We went to Dr. Kiltz, not knowing much about fertility, and were convinced that he was the answer to our dreams after first meeting with him.”
Bedell’s cousin, Leigh, lived in Florida, but was able to come to New York for the treatments. “She started the fertility drugs to prepare her uterus and I did the drugs to produce the eggs,” Bedell recalls. “When it came time for the in-vitro, Leigh flew up to Syracuse. … We put in three (embryos) as advised and prayed and prayed for one to take.”
Bedell got her wish, and then some. “We found out that Leigh was carrying three babies by six weeks (gestation) and we were thrilled!” she says. “(We were) overjoyed, a little nervous but grateful beyond words! It was a difficult emotional journey. . . we were concerned for Leigh’s health and the health of the babies, as multiple births can be very complicated, but Dr. Kiltz was very reassuring from the beginning and extremely supportive throughout.”
At 34 weeks, Leigh delivered and the Bedells were proud parents of three more sons. Each weighed slightly less than 6 pounds. The boys—Jake, Alex and Brendan—are now 7 years old.
Bedell says that while she and her husband considered the increased possibility of having multiple babies through IVF, there is no way to be completely prepared for triplets. They simply embraced the situation, got the babies on a strict schedule, and took help from friends and family. They have no regrets.
“I love my boys more than life,” says Bedell, who’s in her early 40s. She shared her story in the book Raising Triplets: Our Journey From Surrogacy Through Age Two (Outskirts Press) in 2011. A sequel is due out this summer.
The Bedells had much going for them in terms of their relationship with their surrogate, and their own reproductive health. And while IVF is becoming a fairly common medical practice, Kiltz admits that there are many reasons why patients typically see it as a last resort in a long journey with infertility. “There are physical, financial and emotional side effects to everything we do,” he says, Indeed, IVF is still very expensive; a single procedure costs at least $10,000. In New York state, insurance companies are required to provide coverage for drugs to treat infertility, but the IVF process is not covered.
Kiltz doesn’t portray IVF as a solution for all patients. “There are many people who don’t succeed with us,” he admits, adding that depression, anger, fear and worry are common side effects when procedures do not result in pregnancy. Kiltz helps these patients move past that and toward acceptance or another means of
“It’s no wonder this is such an emotional issue,” he says. “Our image of ourselves is built into so much of this. Childbearing and family building is a very basic need, and when it is not met, it can be very difficult.”
Aside from the financial and medical pressures that fertility treatments such as IVF can place on patients, there are also ethical and societal factors. Typically, several eggs are harvested and fertilized during a single IVF cycle. Patients do not always wish to implant all the embryos that result. This puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do with the embryos that are not implanted. Kiltz says he encourages patients to donate these embryos to other patients, but that’s a decision only they can make.
Also, since it is rare for all transferred embryos to survive, doctors often implant several in a single cycle, increasing a woman’s chance of multiple births and low birth weights.
As a man of deep faith, Kiltz says he has no personal conflict with these issues. “I see all of this as being not much different than the ethical issues in our day-to-day life,” he says. “We approach this in a very loving way,” he says. “We are dealing with human life. On the other hand, I don’t believe it is my responsibility to take on other people’s burdens. It’s a challenge to respect other people’s autonomy, but at the same time, we always want to be good stewards of what we do.”
Bedell says Kiltz’s character is a big part of what makes him so appealing as a physician—particularly one who deals with such personal matters “He was sensitive, ethical and educating throughout our process and my complications that came up during the process,” she says. “He is an amazing man who I am grateful to every day of my life.”
The challenges and dilemmas surrounding IVF are unlikely to be resolved in the near future, but Kiltz believes he is doing what he was meant to do. He approaches each day with a smile and does what he can to spread that positive energy.
“I say every day that I’m the luckiest guy alive,” he says. “Who wouldn’t love a job that involves building families? I’m honored to be involved in helping people to do that.”
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.