Joseph Grima was something of a miracle baby when he was born just over 40 years ago.
His mother, Helen, had undergone years of treatment in the hope of conceiving a child.
“I had gone through operations for seven years, but my tubes and ovaries kept going bad,” Ms Grima said.
In early 1982 she turned to a treatment offered by Epworth HealthCare – in vitro fertilisation (IVF), which was relatively new to Australia at the time.
Initially, it seemed that her first round of IVF had not been successful.
“They didn’t think the fertilisation worked and they were going to send me home, so I was crying,” Ms Grima said.
“Then, they told me the next morning my embryo was fertilised.
“When I was told I was pregnant I had tears in my eyes, I couldn’t stop crying. I still get emotional thinking about it.”
Joseph was the first baby born from IVF at Epworth, in October 1982.
The history-maker is now passionate about medical advances as an adult.
“I work as an analytical scientist, looking at new vaccine technologies to immunise people against a lot of different diseases,” Joseph said.
“Mum struggled to get pregnant, so IVF changed her life.”
Fittingly, when the IVF unit opened in 1982 it was located where the Epworth Richmond hospital's paediatric ward is today.
Victoria's largest not-for-profit private healthcare group now offers its IVF services at the Epworth Eastern and Epworth Freemasons facilities, also in Melbourne.
IVF pioneer Professor Gab Kovacs said doctors performed 407 egg collections in the first year at Epworth, resulting in 52 pregnancies.
“It was really exciting to get the first pregnancy, because back in 1982 the success rate wasn’t all that good,” he said.
“Up until I retired, the best part of the day was the afternoon when the pregnancy results came through.
“It was like being the coach of a football team and every pregnancy was like having a win. It was exciting.”
Prof Kovacs and Mrs Grima forged a lifelong bond.
“I looked after Helen and delivered Joseph,” Prof Kovacs said.
“I have kept in touch with his mum over the last 40 years, and for many years she sent me a lotto ticket for Christmas.”
Mrs Grima said she was eternally grateful she was able to become a mother.
“When he was born, I couldn’t get over how lucky we were to fall pregnant on the first go and we made history with Joseph,” she said.