Competitive Swimmer Sets Her Sights on a New Goal

Audrey Shuss with swimming medals
Audrey Shuss with swimming medals

For Audrey Shuss, competitive swimming was a huge part of life. The Arvada native swam in high school, and then for the University of South Dakota.

With more than 14 school records, Audrey was well on her way to becoming a force to be reckoned with. She started participating in Masters Swimming, qualifying for Nationals competition, and placed in the top five in the nation.

Yet even as she worked toward her swimming goals, Audrey also had a strong desire to become a mother. She and her husband, Jim, always knew they wanted to become parents. When many of their friends started having kids a few years ago, the couple decided to work toward their own family. They tried for two years, but Audrey did not get pregnant.

Audrey eventually found help at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine. “I was diagnosed with PCOS, and entered the University’s six-month PCOS study,” Audrey says. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common female endocrine disorders, causing ovulation and conception problems in about 5 percent of reproductive-age women.

Since she was part of a study, Audrey received free medications, which helped her ovulate normally. But she still could not become pregnant.

Audrey’s physician, Dr. Ruben Alvero, advised that they try an IUI (intra-uterine insemination), a procedure that deposits processed semen directly into the uterus.

Unfortunately, the medications Audrey needed to take for the IUI caused hyperstimulation in her ovaries. Hyperstimulation is a potentially life-threatening side effect of ovulation induction that causes a woman’s ovaries to become enlarged and produce an overabundance of eggs. The treatment had to be cancelled.

Since the IUI had not worked, Audrey and Jim decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF). During IVF, the egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish to create an embryo. When the process is successful, the embryo can be placed in the uterus.

The couple started three cycles of IVF, but each time, the treatment was cancelled because the medication caused ovarian hyperstimulation.

“It was so frustrating,” she recalls. “I was not the typical infertility case. I am an extreme athlete with PCOS, and everything they would do for a typical PCOS patient didn’t work for me.”

Audrey Shuss with baby bump by the pool
Audrey Shuss with baby bump by the pool

But Dr. Alvero and the team at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine didn’t give up.

“They just kept brainstorming and trying to find something that would work for me,” says Audrey. “I think that is a sign of a good doctor.”

During this time, Audrey had to balance her dream of becoming a mother with her goal of being a top swimmer.

“Dr. Alvero wanted me to limit the amount of swimming I was doing when going through the IVF process, and it was hard on me,” she says. “Swimming is an outlet for me, and when I couldn’t swim, it made the IVF process even harder because I didn’t have that stress relief.”

Understanding that Audrey needed to continue swimming, Dr. Alvero and Audrey devised a plan that would allow her to swim daily, but not over train.

The couple continued on their quest to have a baby. Audrey was able to complete her fourth cycle and got pregnant. She was thrilled, then devastated when she had an ectopic pregnancy six weeks later.

Since none of the previous treatments had worked, Audrey’s medical team went back to the drawing board.

This time, when Audrey tried IVF again, they took a new approach. They decided to implant two frozen embryos that were created with Audrey’s eggs and Jim’s sperm during a previous IVF cycle.

A few weeks later, Audrey got the welcomed news that she was pregnant with twins!

“During my ultrasound, there were several people from University of Colorado waiting for the news,” she laughs. “They were happy for me. The babies looked strong and healthy.”

Now five months pregnant, Audrey is still swimming, active, and feeling great. Although she isn’t aiming for the Olympics, she would like to compete at Masters Nationals, placing in the top eight. “I’m still competing in swimming,” says Audrey. “I can’t dive, but I can do a push start. I’m going to swim as long as I can.”

Someday, Audrey says, she can imagine swimming with her little ones – and she can’t wait.

“Going through infertility treatment isn’t easy,” she says. “I had thought it would be a quick series and then I’d get pregnant. But it was a two-year struggle.”

But Audrey is glad that she found help at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine.

“I like how they problem-solved and were so supportive,” she say. “If I want to get pregnant again, I would definitely go back. I would also recommend the treatment team at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine for anyone looking to go through the IVF process.”