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Georgeanna Jones Dies at 92; In Vitro Fertilization Pioneer

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page B04

Georgeanna Seegar Jones, 92, part of the husband-and-wife team whose Norfolk clinic produced the first baby via in vitro fertilization in the United States, died March 26 of cardiac arrest at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. She had Alzheimer's disease.

Two British doctors, Patrick C. Steptoe and Robert Edwards, created the world's first such baby, a girl named Louise Brown, on July 25, 1978. That same day, Dr. Jones and her husband, Howard Wilbur Jones Jr. -- who had consulted over the years with Steptoe and Edwards -- arrived at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a private college in Norfolk, where they would establish the first in vitro fertilization clinic in the United States.

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On Dec. 28, 1981, their work resulted in the birth of 5-pound, 12-ounce Elizabeth Jordan Carr at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The baby and her mother, Judith Carr, a 28-year-old Massachusetts schoolteacher, were pronounced perfectly healthy.

Elizabeth's mother had been unable to conceive normally because complications during earlier unsuccessful pregnancies had forced removal of her fallopian tubes. The team headed by the couple successfully joined her husband's sperm in a laboratory dish with a ripe egg cell the doctors had removed from her ovaries. They transplanted the growing clump of new cells into Carr's womb to let gestation take its normal course.

The process also involved the use of fertility-inducing hormones by Dr. Jones, who was an expert on hyperstimulation of the ovaries. The hormones made the mother ovulate at a fixed time.

"All of this sounds so simple," a member of the Jones team told The Washington Post on the day of the baby's birth, "but there's a lot of stress in it all. And it works because a lot of people have worked a lot of long hours to make it go."

Dr. Jones had been working on problems of infertility and ovarian dysfunction since the earliest days of her medical training. Born in Baltimore, she went to Girls Latin High School and received her undergraduate degree from Goucher College.

She was a 1936 graduate of Johns Hopkins University medical school and completed her postgraduate training in gynecology at Johns Hopkins and as a National Cancer Institute trainee. She also performed laboratory research in endocrinology for the medical school's department of surgery.

In 1939, she became director of Johns Hopkins's Laboratory of Reproductive Physiology and gynecologist-in-charge of the hospital's gynecological endocrine clinic. It was the first division of reproductive medicine in any medical school in the United States. Her husband served as director of the university's international program on fertility control, which trained doctors in developing countries about reproductive medicine and life-saving reproductive technologies.

Dr. Jones and her husband moved to Norfolk after they reached mandatory retirement age at Johns Hopkins. Their children wanted them to take it easy in retirement, but a friend, Mason Andrews, a former Norfolk mayor, persuaded them to teach for a couple of years at Norfolk's fledgling medical school.

After another friend put them in touch with a Baltimore family foundation that provided seed money for the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at the medical school, the retirees began a second career. The institute opened in 1983.

For years Dr. Jones and her husband tried to attend every egg retrieval at the institute, each of which inevitably was greeted with a round of applause in the operating room. Even with her Alzheimer's disease, she could recall the names of her patients and many of their babies' names.

Dr. Jones and her husband worked together for more than 60 years, sitting across from each other at an old lawyer's desk that made the move with them from Baltimore to Norfolk. She officially retired in 1996 and no longer saw patients. But she continued going to the office until she broke her hip last fall.

Dr. Jones was the author of more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and more than 20 book chapters. She and her husband also edited Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey for more than 25 years and were the only American gynecologists invited by the Vatican to participate on a panel to advise Pope John Paul II on medical and ethical issues involving assisted reproduction.

"Despite all the controversy that has shadowed in vitro fertilization and stem cell research, Georgeanna never lost sight of the most important thing -- that IVF is first and foremost about making babies," said Sherry Sontag, author of "One in a Million: A History of IVF and the Quest to Make One Tiny Baby."

Survivors include her husband of 64 years, of Norfolk; three children, Howard W. Jones III of Nashville and Georgeanna Jones Klingensmith and Lawrence Jones, both of Denver; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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