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Three years ago, Kim and Adam Lewis decided they wanted to start a family, and like most people they hadn't given much thought to what an embryo actually is. Then Kim's doctor gave the married couple from Johnson City, Tennessee, some bad news. Kim, then just 22, had been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. The condition, similar in effect to menopause, meant that she had no healthy eggs with which to become pregnant.

To use an old-fashioned term, Kim was barren. Wanting to bear a child nonetheless, Kim carefully considered her options and God's leading. A year later, when her physician mentioned something called embryo donation, Kim went home and searched the Web. There she learned about the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC). The center, in nearby Knoxville, seeks to match married couples with "excess" embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Genetic parents often authorize fertility clinics to create many excess embryos. There are now 400,000 stored in clinics nationwide. Most are held for possible future treatments; a relative few of the extras are designated for scientific research.

The NEDC works with clinics and parents to see that some of these embryos are born, encouraging their adoption by infertile married couples, such as the Lewises.

Before the transfer, Kim was not really sure whether the two frozen embryos she adopted were human beings, but after carrying them for 27 weeks and 2 days, she gave birth to two healthy preemies, Katie and Sam. Though tiny the day they were born (at a bit more than two pounds each), today the children are thriving.

"I have a picture of Sam and Katie when they were literally only five days old. They were a clump of cells," Kim says.

"To now hold them in my arms and ...

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October 2005

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