Giving life, being a parent is something we all take for granted. We live our lives thinking when the time comes, when we find love, start a family – and this all just happens naturally. But becoming a mother and a father is truly a miracle, and those of us who have gone on that journey know that. Conception in itself is hard, then comes the scary first trimester when you are praying with all your might that things go well, then carrying the baby to full-term is a challenge in itself, then comes the hard part – giving birth. For some, this journey can be smooth sailing, for some, ever so sadly, it’s not. And for others – it’s not even an option. This is where Dr Kostas Pantos comes in. To give these couples a baby.
Dr Pantos and his team at the Genesis Clinic in Athens have seen the birth of nearly 40,000 healthy babies at their IVF clinic since opening in 1995. He has guided and helped a plethora of couples live out their dreams of becoming parents through IVF.
“All these couples have the right to have a child,” Dr Pantos explains to Neos Kosmos, “but at the same time, they cannot have it due to difficulties.” He says while couples who have the ability to conceive just carry on with their lives, those that can’t become consumed with their dream to have a baby of their own.
“It is their life-long dream and their right – I just help them achieve their dream.”
Born in Melbourne in 1957, Dr Pantos began his career in medicine at Monash University, however, after his first year of tertiary education, his parents decided to migrate back to Greece. There he continued with his medical studies, eventually returning to Australia upon completion. He worked at Melbourne IVF at the Royal Women’s Hospital as the senior registrar and IVF coordinator during 1987-89 before making the decision to return to Greece.
He stayed in the field of IVF and opened the Genesis Clinic in Athens in 1995. Back then there were only two employees; now the clinic has 80 personnel including 14 biologists. In the past seven years, the clinic has grown to be not only the largest in Greece, but one of the largest IVF units in Europe. The clinic does 4,000 cycles of IVF a year, a momentous amount for a clinic. But even for a high number, Dr Pantos credits his success to giving every couple the attention and understanding they need through this emotional journey.
“The secret to our success is individualisation,” he says, “we look at each patient’s particular needs, and each couple’s problems.
“We find out what their individual problem is, and then get around that problem through various medical ways and methods.”
The clinic also undertakes research in the world of IVF, and issues pertaining to conception and fertility. They have published papers from their research and are open to collaboration with other facilities and universities. The centre itself has set up co-operations in Ioannina and Patras for people to have access to IVF closer to where they live. And they are also going to host a conference this year where they have invited specialists in the field of IVF and fertility, professors and doctors, from all over the world to take part and discuss new methods and exchange ideas. They’ve also set up an affiliation with the University of Athens to offer fellowships to students, and are looking to do the same with Monash University.
But also, they have made significant inroads in genetic diagnosis, and have conducted research and assisted couples suffering from thalassaemia to give birth to healthy children.
When asked how many children have been born out of the clinic, Dr Pantos says “enough to fill a small city” before giving me the number of more than 35,000, many of those to Australian parents, including entertainer Mary Coustas, who used the Genesis facility to fulfil her life-long dream of becoming a mother. Last year alone, more than 600 babies were born to Australian parents.
“What excites me is around Christmas time, we always get cards with pictures of the babies – [the parents] never forget us.
“All over the clinic we have pictures of smiling families and it’s these smiles that keep us going.”
Through his career, this man is literally giving life. What does he feel about those that say that this may be playing God?
“We are not God,” he says matter of factly, “we are not playing God but we are doing a service through medicine, through what we’ve learnt all these years as doctors. We help couples through our knowledge of medicine.”
“The final decision about the couple having a child is there, and I say to them pray to God and ask him to bring you a child, so he has the final word on this matter.
“All we are doing is applying the medical knowledge as we do in other diseases – such as heart problems or cancer – and try to help people achieve a child.
“Because they were unfortunate that they had a problem in the first place – either a problem that came by through their life, for example, an infection which closed their tubes or a problem where they were born without a uterus but have ovaries.”
In this instance, Dr Pantos says that many have been able to have biological children through a surrogate uterus. And he says, many were born because their grandmothers were used as surrogates.
But for now, Dr Pantos will continue to be the miracle worker that he is and find solace in smiles. Bringing life to this world – the greatest gift of all.