TOCKHOLM — When the young Australian cervical cancer patient learned she had to lose her womb in order to survive, she proposed something audacious to the doctor who was treating her: She asked if she could have a womb transplant, so she could one day carry her own baby.
This was nearly two decades ago, when the Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom was training to be a physician abroad.
“I thought she was a bit crazy,'' Brannstrom said.
But Brannstrom didn't dismiss her idea. Instead, after he returned to Sweden he began a series of painstaking research projects to learn whether it might be possible to transplant a womb, despite criticism that the unheard-of procedure was dangerous, medically unnecessary, and impossible.
Brannstrom went on to become the first doctor to deliver babies — five so far — from women with donated wombs. No other doctor in the world has succeeded, despite attempts in the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and ongoing efforts in China, Britain, France, the Czech Republic and elsewhere.
The first of Brannstrom's patients' babies was born in 2014 and the fifth arrived in January; another is due in early 2017.
Brannstrom is working with doctors at Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to help women beyond Sweden get access to the procedure. Doctors at Baylor University in Texas, including two former members of Brannstrom's team, announced this week they performed four womb transplants. One was successful, but not yet ready to attempt a pregnancy.