Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

New Year Honours: IVF pioneers met prejudice in early days

Having your letterbox blown up several times by people who don't agree with your line of work would probably do it for most people.

But not for Richard Fisher.

Dr Fisher, an obstetrician and gynaecologist for more than 25 years, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to medicine.

The Aucklander co-established the first IVF fertility programme at National Women's Hospital in 1983 - something that did not go down well with some.

"When we started, people used to blow up my letterbox," he said.

"It came out at a time when that sort of thing was very controversial. There was a lot of ethical anxiety and people who saw it as morally repugnant."

Dr Fisher is being honoured alongside colleague and good friend Freddie Graham, who has also been an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Auckland for well over 20 years.

Dr Graham co-established the IVF programme at National Women's with Dr Fisher and both were founders of Fertility Associates, the country's leading provider of fertility diagnosis, support and treatment.

Dr Graham said the many obstacles they had faced over the years had been hard to take at times.

But seeing the personal joy gained by hundreds of couples had made their work beyond rewarding, he said.

"When we went into the business, there was very little we could do to help [couples who could not conceive].

"But now, with the help of technology, we've helped hundreds of families, and it's pretty magic."

Dr Fisher has been chairman of the board of Ascot Hospital for the past 10 years. He is also a member of the Institute of Directors.

Dr Graham is an expert in male infertility, and particularly in the use of microsurgery.

Both continue to play key roles at Fertility Associates, where Dr Fisher is chairman and Dr Graham is director.

Both doctors say that being recognised in the New Year Honours will help towards getting people to accept that IVF treatment should be looked at just like any other medical treatment.

"It's bloody hard," Dr Graham said. "It's an area where you work and get fantastic highs and fantastic lows."

- NZ Herald

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