After being diagnosed with infertility, a Dixon couple invented a device to help: PherDal. It costs just $149 and claims to be safe, sterile, and intended for home use.
DIXON, Ill. — When you enter the Hintzsche-Westphal house, the family is at the center of everything.
The branches of the Christmas trees bend under the weight of a myriad of ornaments. Most, proudly displayed in a variety of colors and styles, are branded with four names: Jenn, Ryan, Lois and Zach. As the matriarch of the quartet will tell you, “When you work so hard to have kids, you get everything with their name on it.”
Today, after years of heartbreak, setbacks and trial and error, their home also serves as the headquarters of PherDal: an infertile home reproductive assistant who hopes to change the world of infertility treatments such as we know him.
Creation of PherDal
Dr. Jennifer Hintzsche met her husband, Ryan Westphal, eleven years ago. It was a match seemingly made in STEM heaven, with his doctorate in bioinformatics and his engineering degree. While they now call Dixon, Illinois home, Hintzsche also has a connection to Quad City, since attending Augustana College as an undergraduate.
After years of pursuing education and careers, the two decided to get married and start a family. But more and more months passed without any sign of pregnancy in sight. Finally, after a year of trying, the couple were able to see a reproductive endocrinologist.
“We were diagnosed with unexplained infertility,” Hintzsche said. “I now know that a third of all people who see a reproductive endocrinologist get the same diagnosis. But at the time, I never thought they wouldn’t be able to figure out what’s wrong. wasn’t going.”
However, an unsatisfactory diagnosis was not the end of their problems. Labeled “infertile,” Hintzsche realized that her insurance would no longer help pay for her pregnancy journey.
As is the case with most insurance companies, Hintzsche and Westphal were only covered until their diagnosis. Everything after that, including expensive fertility treatments, would fall squarely on their shoulders and their wallets.
One of the most common treatment routes is in vitro fertilization. A single IVF cycle can range from $15,000 to $30,000.
“We went into this meeting with all this hope,” Hintzsche said. “And we applied for a $10,000 loan and a treatment plan when they didn’t know what was wrong.”
Both say it was an agonizing start to their marriage.
“I turned our marriage into a science experiment. And he basically became my sperm donor, not my husband,” Hintzsche recalled. “We would have done anything.”
But despite the odds and uncertainties, Hintzsche decided to take matters into his own hands. She ended up going back to her scientific roots: digging into research.
Most of what she discovered was intrauterine insemination, or IUI. In this procedure, the sperm is washed, concentrated and then placed in the uterus. However, Hintzsche found it expensive, invasive, and unsatisfying.
Then she discovered a new procedure called intracervical insemination, or ICI. It’s best known in LGBTQ+ communities, but isn’t as widely researched or funded in heterosexual circles. ICI does not need washed sperm. Instead, it places the semen sample about an inch lower than IUI treatments, placing it at the opening of the cervix.
“That was the turning point,” Hintzsche said, smiling at Westphal. “And then when we couldn’t find anything on the market that was safe, sterile, and meant for sperm, that’s when I said, ‘Hey, do you want to make one? “”
How PherDal Works
In 2017, still reeling from their infertility diagnosis, Hintzsche and Westphal sat down at their kitchen table and began sketching out designs for their device. After more than 30 different iterations, they created their now patented technique.
The two-step process begins when a semen sample is placed in PherDal’s sterile jar. That’s when a syringe, also sterile, comes into play.
“You’re really pulling the sample into the syringe. And then it’s like putting a tampon in; it’s really that simple,” Hintzsche explained. “But it’s effective. It bypasses any potential bacteria or anatomical conditions and brings the sperm closer to the egg in a safe way.”
Throughout PherDal’s design, small touches reflect hours of correction and tweaking, according to reviews. The jar is rounded so that every drop of sample can be drawn into the syringe. Small ridges protrude from the finger grips of the syringe, allowing for an easier and more stable grip.
But the most obvious appeal of the device is its price and accessibility.
So far, PherDal has sold proof-of-concept kits for just under $100. If expanded to a larger, more public market, Hintzsche and Westphal will sell the kit for just $149 – thousands less than standard fertility treatments.
Each kit comes with three jars and syringes, allowing for three applications. All of this can be done at home.
“You don’t have to do it in a clinic,” Hintzsche said. “I think it takes so much stress away because there aren’t other people involved.”
Although PherDal has yet to have clinical trials, having shipped 200 proof-of-concept kits, Hintzsche and Westphal know of 25 babies who were born after a parent started using their device.
This includes their own daughter, Lois.
Two days after Christmas 2017 – just weeks after PherDal was founded – Hintzsche called her sobbing husband.
“I think I passed out! I mean, I was crying. I kept telling him it worked! It worked! It worked,” she recalled.
“Since then, it’s been blurry,” smiles Westphal.
In September 2018, Lois was born as the first PherDal baby. Today, she is a carbon copy of her father. Curious but shy, she likes order and consistency. But make no mistake, Lois can quickly turn into a rambunctious, rowdy toddler; quick to laugh and exuding contagious spunk.
“I didn’t know what it was like to be a mother,” Hintzsche cried. “And then when I held my daughter, I just wanted to be able to give that to other people.”
People like Tessa Mills, mom from Cedar Rapids.
When News 8 caught up with Mills, she was busy preparing for Thanksgiving festivities. It’s an already daunting task, made even more interesting with a curious six-month-old to watch.
“She’s a Gemini,” Mills laughed, holding her daughter Harper in her arms: the world’s second baby PherDal. “She’s perfectly healthy, she’s just growing too fast!”
Mills met Hintzsche through a Facebook group for women entrepreneurs with ADHD. At the time, Mills and her husband had spent over a year trying to conceive. Dissatisfied with her own infertility diagnosis, she became a Certified Fertility Awareness Educator.
“I’m certified in the FEM method, which is kind of a medical model,” Mills said. “It’s not just about tracking your cycle, it’s also about looking at your biomarkers and being able to kind of figure out what might be going on. Finding the root cause.”
When Hintzsche published articles about PherDal in the group, seeking marketing support, Mills was immediately interested. She was attracted to the sterility of PherDal and liked that it could be used at home. Mills was also attracted by the affordable price of the new device.
The two women hopped on a zoom call and started diving into the research and science behind the little tool.
“I think I jumped off zoom and immediately ordered a kit because I just knew it was going to help us,” Mills said.
And after just one cycle of PherDal, after nearly two years of trying, Mills finally got her pregnancy test positive.
“It was just surreal,” she said, crying. “I took the test when I was home alone and when I saw the two lines I couldn’t believe it.”
Mills called Hintzsche before her husband even knew she was pregnant, and the two women laughed and cried together on the phone.
“From that point on, we were like, we’re gonna be in each other’s lives forever,” Mills smiled. “I have the opportunity to be a mum. I get emotional sometimes when I talk about it because I’m six months old and I still can’t believe I tested positive.”
She says the price and at-home application of PherDal have made it a much more viable option.
“They’re really working to build a business that gives people an opportunity,” Mills said. “Infertility treatments are very expensive and inaccessible to many people. They will really help a lot of people.”
What’s next for PherDal
Currently, the device is halfway through the FDA clearance process. Its creators hope that PherDal will go public as early as spring 2023.
So what would that look like? The company hopes to sell its device over-the-counter at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Target pharmacies across the country. Each kit would cost $149 and include three sets of jars and syringes.
But getting there comes at a high price. It takes almost a million dollars to pass the FDA clearance tests and trials.
“That was a really tough number to hear. And I’m still not sure how we’re going to get there, but we’ll get there,” Hintzsche said.
That’s why the company is turning to investors for help. PherDal is currently seeking minimum investments of $249 to get the device through the FDA. So far, more than 200 investors have pooled just over $420,000. There are also over 1,200 people on PherDal waiting for the device to come back in stock.
Now the company is running an investment drive through December 19 to help meet its spring 2023 target.
“It won’t work for everyone. But it has worked for some,” she said. “Fertility treatment is not accessible. We want it to be affordable and accessible to anyone who wants to try to start a family. I don’t know what the future holds, but we have to offer it to everyone. And it’s a feeling that I just want to keep running.”
With every dollar that comes in, Hintzsche sends it back immediately, paying for further tests and procedures. For her, failure is simply not an option for PherDal.
“It’s really hard to have hope when you’re going through the infertility journey. So even being able to give people something to feel like they can empower themselves and take a bit of the control over their fertility journey – even from a mental health perspective – is amazing,” Hintzsche said.
What started as a heartbreaking journey of loss has turned into a revolutionary device, working to transform the world of fertility treatments; bringing hope directly to people’s doorsteps.
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