Men with spinal cord injuries become fathers with fertility treatment in Miami

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A spinal cord injury can be life-changing, and the potential for infertility can often be a devastating blow.

Of the men in the US who have sustained a spinal cord injury, nearly eight in 10 experience fertility and reproductive problems due to erectile dysfunction or poor sperm quality.

But there is a clinic in Miami, Florida, that has made it its mission to help men with spinal cord injuries start families.

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The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has helped deliver 200 babies since the 1990s.

Fox News Digital spoke with Dr. Emad Ibrahim, director of the Male Fertility Research Program, about how “amazing” this achievement is.

A patient with a spinal cord injury enters the lab of Dr. Emad Ibrahim at his clinic in Miami, Florida. (The University of Miami)

The doctor said that “there's nothing better than the feeling” you get when you find out one of his patients is expecting a child.

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“Every time we get an email with an ultrasound picture of the baby … it’s mission accomplished,” he said. “It’s the most satisfying feeling you’ll ever have.”

Ibrahim, an associate professor of urology and neurosurgery at UMiami, said the clinical research program is “very unique” in its quest to help men father children of their own using techniques rarely found elsewhere.

Eric Rosemary, Dr.  Emad Ibrahim and Darris Strauder in a split shot

New fathers Eric Rosemary (left) and Darris Straughter (right) both underwent the procedure at the Miami Project led by Dr. Ibrahim (center). (Eric Rosemary; University of Miami)

Men with erectile dysfunction can be given medications to address this problem. However, men with ejaculatory dysfunction face a greater challenge. The Miami clinic addresses this with two unique procedures.

The two techniques include penile vibration stimulation and electroejaculation. Both are FDA approved and are selected based on the nature of the spinal cord injury.

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The electro-ejaculation device activates and contracts the glands responsible for producing sperm. (The device is also available in Sweden, the only other location besides Miami.)

According to Ibrahim, this method is successful “almost 100% of the time.”

'Awesome' fatherhood

Men from all over the US, and even from outside the country, have come to undergo this treatment including Darris Straughter, 44, a Miami native.

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Straughter was a victim of gun violence in 2018, he said in an interview with Fox News Digital.

While sitting at a traffic light, he was shot eight times, the wounds leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

darris straighter and daughter

Darris Straughter plays with his daughter, who turns 2 on August 5, 2024. Straughter was paralyzed by gunfire in 2018. (The University of Miami)

“I don't feel anything,” he said. “It's a crazy situation. You just have to go with the flow, keep going and try to stay positive.”

Despite the incident, Straughter, who already had one child of his own, was determined to have children for his wife.

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“I kept saying, 'She deserves a child,'” he said. “She was by my side the whole time. So I thought, 'I'm going to try every way I can to make it happen.'”

Straughter received treatment from Ibrahim, which eventually led to his wife's successful pregnancy. His daughter is now almost 2 years old and is “healthy and strong,” he said.

“[Fatherhood] is amazing. It's so happy,” he said. “I just love everything about it.”

the straughter family at disney

“I pray that God continues to lead us in the right path,” Straughter, pictured here with his wife and daughter, told Fox News Digital. (The University of Miami)

Eric Rosemary, 46, a fellow Florida resident, also found success at the Miami facility after he was paralyzed in a Memorial Day accident 15 years ago.

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“I was on a boat … in West Palm Beach, and I fell off the boat and broke my C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae and became a quadriplegic,” he said.

Rosemary, who has been married for eight years, told Fox News Digital that he turned to the Miami Project when the time came to have children.

Eric Rosemary and his family

Eric Rosemary of Florida, pictured here with his family, said the Miami Project is “leading the way” in helping people with spinal cord injuries adapt. (Eric Rosemary)

Rosemary was previously involved in clinical trials for the project.

He and his wife have since had two sons, born in 2020 and 2023, after three attempts with the first pregnancy and two attempts with the second.

“When you've just been injured, there are so many other things to worry about,” Rosemary said.

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“When I was 30, I was able to deal with a spinal cord injury, rebuild my business, rebuild my life, and then get married and have my boys,” he continued. “I was fortunate that I had the time to do that.”

Because patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury initially focus on mobility and medical care, sexual function is often “dismissed,” Ibrahim noted.

straighter family at disney

Darris Straughter, pictured in the background with his daughter, is now a stay-at-home dad. His wife is in the foreground. (The University of Miami)

“They rarely talk about fertility,” he said. “And unfortunately, we still have a number of rehabilitation centers in remote areas of the country that tell these patients, 'Forget it. You're not going to have children.'”

He added: “If [providers] “If they knew our program existed, and they could actually refer patients to us, that would help tremendously.”

Ongoing investigation

Because the Miami Project procedures have produced excellent results, more research is now being done into a possible fertility treatment, Ibrahim said.

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In July 2023, the program received a $3.24 million, 40-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct a clinical trial of a drug called Probenecid, previously used to treat gout.

Dr. Emad Ibrahim portrait photo

Dr. Ibrahim specializes in reproductive and sexual dysfunction in men with spinal cord injuries. He said that “there is nothing better than the feeling” of finding out that one of his patients is expecting a child. (The University of Miami)

After years of research, Ibrahim and his team found that the drug addresses the internal problems that some spinal cord injury patients experience, he said.

In the pilot study, which involved 18 patients with spinal cord injuries, Ibrahim reported that sperm quality improved in all participants.

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“The drug is safe and we have publications that show it works,” he said.

The larger clinical trial is currently underway as the Miami Project seeks additional volunteers.

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