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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

This time last year, Gena Pass was living out of a hospital room at Shands at UF, praying that her pregnancy would end in a healthy birth.

Now, she and her husband, Anthony Pass, are the parents of nearly one-year-old AJ, a smiling, blue-eyed boy who might be walking any day now.

"We were at an all-time low, and we are just at an all-time high now," she said.

Pass's description of her pregnancy, which included a ,10,000 in vitro fertilization process, earned her third place in an essay contest sponsored by Ferring Pharmaceuticals, an infertility drug company.

She and her family accepted a ,500 check Monday at a small ceremony at Women's Health at Magnolia Parke, a Gainesville clinic where she first went through the in vitro. Her doctor, UF physician Stan Williams, and nurse, Jean Melby, were present for photos and congratulations.

The ,500 will go to AJ's college fund, Gena Pass said.

The couple, who met at college in Indiana, tried to get pregnant for five years before they moved to Gainesville for Anthony Pass's job as the associate director of sports health for the UF football team.

Being so close to medical resources like Shands, the Passes decided to try in vitro fertilization.

"We wanted to have a baby," Gena Pass said. "We didn't care how it happened."

The couple got pregnant on their first try-a 45 percent chance in women less than 35 years old, Williams said.

After Melby called her with the good news, Gena Pass called her back to make sure it actually happened.

"Maybe I dreamed it," she said. "I was that shocked."

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Her dream was interrupted 16 weeks into the pregnancy, when she started bleeding heavily.

She feared she might be losing her baby.

Her doctor referred her to Shands, where she was diagnosed with Vasa Previa, a complication that occurs in one out of 3,000 pregnancies. The bleeding was caused by pressure on a major artery that could kill the baby if it were to burst.

After a particularly bad bleeding episode, Pass was put on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.

She spent five months in bed, and was allowed up twice a week to go to the doctor and to go out for a doctor-approved "date night" with her husband.

"All I wanted was the success of this pregnancy," she said. "I worked so hard to get it."

She did crossword puzzles, read books and received visits from friends.

"I watched every reality show that was going on at the time," she said.

Anthony Pass continued to travel with the Gators, but his parents came to live in the Pass' three-bedroom house for four months to take care of her.

Being away from his wife was stressful, Anthony Pass said, "but we had the goal, and it was him."

Gena Pass still worried for her baby's safety.

Even at her baby shower, she couldn't relax.

"I wouldn't open a thing," she said. "I kept every receipt."

On Jan. 1, 2007, as her due date approached, she moved into Shands to be near the operating room-just as her husband left for Arizona and the Gators' national championship game.

She decorated her hospital room in orange and blue and celebrated the win against Ohio State University with her mother-in-law and a party at the nurses' station.

"I had the best time there," she said. "People laugh at me."

Pass was also glad to be close to her doctors. If the blood vessel were to burst, the baby could be killed within three minutes.

"It gave me peace of mind," she said.

After the Gators' win, Anthony Pass was invited to the Super Bowl. Though Pass was supposed to go into labor any day, she told him to go.

He stayed only one day and returned Feb. 5. She started having contractions that night.

Anthony Nicholas Pass Jr.-AJ-was born Feb. 6.

But the baby was immediately whisked into intensive care because his lungs were underdeveloped.

Pass didn't lose hope.

"In my heart, I just knew there was nothing that could go wrong, because we had been through so much already," she said.

She left the hospital on Feb. 8, and her baby, finally healthy, left Feb. 16.

"It was hard to leave," she said. "I was so emotionally attached to this place, and not only that, but my son wasn't allowed to come with me."

AJ's lungs are fine now. He can say "dada" but not "mama"-to Gena Pass's dismay-and he loves to take baths.

Doctors never found out why Gena Pass was unable to get pregnant, which Williams said happens in only 5 percent of women.

This June, the couple plans to go through in vitro again to try for a second child.

"It's going to be harder the second time," Gena Pass said.

But she knows what she's getting into.

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