We talk with Michelle Ottey, PhD, the laboratory Director of the Fairfax Cryobank.
When was the Fairfax Cryobank established?
Fairfax Cryobank was founded in 1986 and has provided the highest quality donor sperm that has led to the creation of many happy healthy families since. We provide the caring and sensitive support needed, the high quality donor sperm required, and are fully compliant with FDA regulations governing reproductive tissue banks as well as relevant HFEA regulations.
How long have you been working for the Fairfax Cryobank?
I am the Laboratory Director and have been with Fairfax since 2006 when I started as the Laboratory Supervisor for our Philadelphia location. Fairfax Cryobank is part of the Genetics and IVF Institute that is based in Fairfax, Virginia. I work with staff in our five donor production laboratories in four states. I manage the Cryobank Donor Program, am responsible for Quality Assurance and Quality Control for the Cryobank, manage the training of new staff and ongoing training and proficiency. I also have the pleasure of participating in community outreach and educational conferences and events to further knowledge about family building options for various communities including the LGBTQ community.
What services does the Fairfax Cryobank provide?
Fairfax Cryobank recruits sperm donors to participate in our Sperm Donor program. We have the highest standards in donor screening and testing and go above and beyond the regulatory requirements to qualify our donors. We have a rigorous screening process that takes about 3-4 weeks to initially qualify a prospective donor. This includes: a 3-4 generation medical history; regulatory screening questionnaires; 3-4 semen specimen evaluations; and an on-site in-depth interview with our staff to review and confirm the medical history of the prospective donor and his family. I personally review all applications and semen evaluation information along with notes made by the lab staff about the prospective donor, as does our Medical Director, a Board certified Medical Geneticist. If we agree that he is a good candidate the lab will work with the prospective donor to schedule his physical and blood draw that will include infectious and genetic disease screening. Once all results are received and reviewed the Medical Director will determine the eligibility of the donor and he will be accepted or rejected for the program.
What information do you keep on your donors?
We collect a plethora of non-identifying information on our donors so that we can provide our clients with profiles, essays, staff impressions, audio interviews, staff audio clips, etc. Everyone at the Cryobank works hard to provide appealing, accurate donor information to our clients. Our ID Donors join the program and sign an agreement documenting their willingness to be contacted by individuals conceived using their samples who are 18 years of age or older. When the Cryobank receives a request by the individual, we will reach out to the donor who can choose his preferred method of contact. We will then share that contact information. If the donor doesn’t respond timely we will release the last known contact information to the individual.
Fairfax Cryobank has an annual update system set up to check in with our retired donors and collect updated medical information. Our donors can log into a secure site to share personal accomplishments and updated health info for them and their family. We add this information to the summary profiles on our website for the individual donors.
Who makes up the majority of your client base?
We have a diverse client base made up of heterosexual and same-sex couples as well as single individuals who are ready to build their family. We have clients of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and education levels. We work to provide a diverse donor pool that will meet the needs of our clients. When choosing a donor many people will start by making a list of characteristics that they value in people or that are similar to themselves or a partner. They then go to our easy to use donor search and start narrowing down our large pool of donors by applying different filters; some start with physical features such as height or skin tone, others by ethnic background, or by education. Some clients choose to start with FaceMatch; a great feature we offer that allows clients to upload a photo and receive a ranking of donors who have similar features. Once clients have a list of donors that they consider they will review medical profiles, purchase additional items like the audio interviews or photos, and will look for a good match. We hear from many clients that they just “knew” when then found the right donor. We are so happy to offer so many highly qualified, interesting donors that feel right for our clients.
On a personal level what gives you the greatest pleasure working with the Fairfax Cryobank?
It is satisfying knowing that the work I do, with so many committed and caring staff, is directly responsible for helping so many to build their families. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to such a renowned and respected company’s legacy; it is a driving force in my motivation and work ethic. My outreach with the LGBTQ community is especially satisfying; both because of my personal connection and because I have seen many who are so full of love able to build a family and expand that love when they didn’t have options in the past that would have allowed for it.