David R. Meldrum, MD
China's first IVF success
Just before I left UCLA, a team of physicians came from Beijing to work with us at UCLA. I knew they would be successful by the approach they took to absorbing and recording all of the details involved. Shortly after returning they proved my prediction correct by achieving the first IVF success in China. I was then invited to visit them in Beijing to see them in action. The technique had suffered a bit in the translation, but I was able to make some simple suggestions and they continued to enjoy a very reasonable level of success (actually better than some U.S. programs that never asked for help).
China was a fascinating place to visit at that time. Physicians earned about $100 per month and often less than taxi drivers. Claudia and I treasure a dinner we had at our host’s simple apartment (this was the menu that evening) which their son prepared in a tiny kitchen under an uncovered light bulb. The feast was sumptuous as food is an important part of their hospitality, which we experienced repeatedly. As we had observed with hosts in Ecuador serving us estomago de vaca (cow stomach), food can also be served in jest to see how their guests respond- in Beijing it was duck brain that we were encouraged to try!
Beijing at that time was a river of bicycles. One of our favorite afternoons was biking to Tiananmen Square through small neighborhoods where heating was with coal and food was often prepared on small hibachis. The only sign of progress was the large very comfortable hotels that were going up and we remember having lunch on the top floor of one looking down at laborers toiling as Americans had several decades before.
We were invited back several years later, after Tiananman, and what an incredible change!. Our hosts now all had cell phones, laptops and video cameras, and they were well dressed. Their IVF program was doing 2,000 cycles per year (we do about 1,000 at RPMG). They had two micromanipulation set-ups and were performing procedures that any top IVF program in the world was doing.
Our host and head of their program, Dr. Zhang, was a fascinating woman who had lived through the Cultural Revolution. She and most intellectuals were sent to the countryside; Dr. Zhang’s job during that time was mopping floors, trying to be as un-noticeable as possible. She told us their motto was “if you stick your head out, it will get chopped off". We treasure our times in China and when our hosts visited us at our home in Palos Verdes. Dr. Zhang’s husband, a professor of chemistry, presented us with a gift of a piece of art etched on titanium using an electric pencil and no dyes or pigments. All of the colors of this picture of the Great Wall are oxides of the titanium.