The news could hardly have been more devastating for policeman John Powell. Diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 32, he was given only six months to live and told that aggressive chemotherapy would leave him infertile.
That was 21 years ago – and now he and his wife are celebrating the arrival of a daughter. Mr Powell had a sperm sample frozen before he began the treatment and, when he was finally given the all-clear after two decades, it was used to create baby Jasmine.
‘We couldn’t be happier – she is a wonder of medical science,’ said Mr Powell at home with wife Chenphen in Orpington, Kent. ‘I look at little Jasmine and think she is nothing less than miraculous. I honestly didn’t believe she was real until the moment she was born and I saw her face. Now I hold her and think she is part of me from 20 years ago, before I had chemotherapy.
‘It’s astonishing that something as beautiful and perfect as Jasmine could come out of a time that was so painful and difficult.’ For Mr and Mrs Powell, the birth of their daughter on February 20 is even more of a wonder because they had enough money to fund only one cycle of IVF.
They were also fighting against the clock because strict rules meant Mr Powell’s sperm would have had to be destroyed when he reached the age of 55. Medical staff at the Bridge Centre in London, where they underwent the treatment, believe it is a British record for 20-year-old sperm to be successful in its first cycle.
Trevor White, an engineer from Manchester, became a father in 2004 after his sperm had been frozen for 21 years. However baby Daniel was conceived after four separate rounds of IVF.
‘I never thought we would be lucky enough for it to work,’ said 53-year-old Mr Powell, a former superintendent with the Metropolitan force.
‘I didn’t allow myself to believe it had been a success until the moment Jasmine was born.’
Mr Powell already had a daughter, now 23, with his first wife when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. They split a few years later and after a period alone he visited Thailand, where friends introduced him to Chenphen.
They married in March 2008 but only after he warned her that they could probably not have a family.
Mrs Powell, 36, said: ‘John explained to me that his cancer meant we were probably not going to be able to have a baby. ‘Obviously I was upset but I loved John so much that all I could think about was our future life together, if that was without children then that was okay.
‘But we knew there was a chance of having a baby with the frozen sperm. I knew we only really had one chance of it working so I didn’t really believe it would.
‘It was so unexpected when we found out I was pregnant, John had a huge smile on his face and it was obvious how happy he was.’ Mr Powell, a keen runner who has coached athletes to world championship level, had the sperm sample frozen in April 1991 and it was exactly 20 years later when his wife found she was pregnant.
He is the first Briton to survive a pioneering treatment. Bone marrow was drained from four holes drilled into his pelvis at Guy’s Hospital in London before he was given extremely high doses of chemotherapy. Months later the bone marrow – which had been frozen – was transplanted back into his body and his long road to recovery began.
Mr Powell kept a diary throughout the whole traumatic period of his treatment. He said: ‘I was confronted with the prospect of having just six months to live or having a chance of survival if I took the new treatment. I was determined to fight. It was a terrible time and it has only been since we were expecting Jasmine that I have been able to look at the diary again.’
The couple plan to fly to Thailand in September to show their daughter off to Mrs Powell’s mother. ‘She was crying down the phone when I told her Jasmine had been born,’ said Mrs Powell. ‘It is her first grandchild. I don’t know how she is going to wait until September.’