'We're just so grateful': CT nonprofit helps those needing fertility treatments

Photo of Amanda Cuda
Jim and Emily Cornacchio of West Hartford, with their 3-year-old twins, Benjamin and Hailey.

Jim and Emily Cornacchio of West Hartford, with their 3-year-old twins, Benjamin and Hailey.

Contributed photo / Jim and Emily Cornacchio

Jim and Emily Cornacchio were getting tired of waiting.

The West Hartford couple met when they were in high school — he was a sophomore and she was a junior. They knew relatively quickly that they wanted to be together and start a family, but it was a long time before they were ready to do that. Then, in their early 30s, they decide it was time to start building the family they wanted.

But things didn’t turn out as planned. Emily had an autoimmune disease that attacked her ovaries and made it nearly impossible for her to conceive a child on her own.

“Going through finding out you can’t have a family the way you envisioned — it’s hard for everybody,” said Jim, now 36. “We met when we were very young and we waiting a long time to have a family. To find out we couldn’t have one was painful.”

But a few years ago, they were able to make their dreams a reality with a grant from Westport-based nonprofit the Nest Egg Foundation. The grant provides up to $10,000 to cover IVF treatments and is available only to New York and Connecticut residents. The latest round of grant applications opened last month, and is open through the Nest Egg website.

Grant funding can be redeemed at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut — which has offices in Norwalk, Stamford, Trumbull, Danbury and Harrison, N.Y. — and at the Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, which has offices in Farmington, New London, Hartford and Branford.

The purpose of Nest Egg grant, which started in 2015, is to remove at least some of the financial obstacles for families like the Cornacchios, said Dr. Mark Leondires, medical director and founder of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut

“I’ve been taking care of infertility patients for 25 years, and one of the hardest things for me was someone who needed to do in vitro fertilization and couldn’t afford it,” said Leondires.

The Cornacchios initially tried in vitro fertilzation on their own, with some financial help from family. IVF involves combining eggs with sperm outside the body, and implanting the fertilized eggs into the uterus. The Cornacchios used an egg donor, which is expensive. That first IVF try, Jim said, cost around $35,000, largely due to the costs involved with egg donation.

Unfortunately, that attempt at conception resulted in a miscarriage.

The Cornacchios didn’t have the money to pursue a second round on their own. But around this time they learned about the Nest Egg grant, and decided to apply. They received the grant, and it was enough to cover their next attempt at conception, which was only about $10,000, as it was just IVF.

Now they have 3-year-old fraternal twins, Benjamin and Hailey.

“We’re just so grateful,” Jim said.

Since the Nest Egg grant launched, Leondires said it has led to 10 babies born, with one more on the way. He said the foundation is in a position to only offer six grants a year, and tries to choose recipients that have the best chance of succeeding. Applicants have to meet multiple criteria, including being between 25 and 44 years old.

In addition to couples, the grant is available to single people and those who are part of a same-sex couple.

Leondires said the foundation also leans toward those who, like the Cornacchios, have a compelling story about their quest to conceive.

“We’ve had some really heart-wrenching stories about what people have been through already,” he said.

For the Cornacchios, receiving the grant was life-changing. Jim said it’s hard enough for a family to learn that they can’t have a child the way they had planned on, and then to embark in vitro fertilization, which isn’t always successful.

“It feels like there’s a dark cloud hanging over your life,” he said. “And on top of this, there’s this enormous financial burden. (The grant) helps relieve that very large additional burden while you’re trying to deal with rest of this stuff that’s already very hard.”

For more information or to apply for a grant, visit www.nesteggfoundation.org.