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Donor Sperm Coordinator Profile

Tell us a bit about you.

My name is Zoe Barnikel and I am a new member of the Embryology team. I graduated in 2018 from the University of Birmingham with a Master’s degree in Human Biology where I spent the last year researching male-factor infertility. As someone who has always been interested in fertility, this practical experience cemented my decision to seek a career in this area.

After graduating I have been very fortunate to join the CARE Nottingham team as Embryology Administrator/Technician, which means I split my time between working in the office and assisting the embryologists in the lab. As part of my administrative role I am working as the donor sperm coordinator (DSC) for the clinic.


What is a DSC?

As donor sperm coordinator I am responsible for arranging the transport of sperm from external sperm banks to our CARE Nottingham clinic.

Unfortunately it is not as simple as a patient placing an order with the bank and waiting for the samples delivery! This is because we require a number of donor checks to be performed in order for the sample to meet legal requirements for use. So once a patient finds a donor and places an order with the bank, I then have to wait for the bank to contact me and provide a number of documents. These include the donors consent forms and their screening records which prove they were tested for a range of infectious and genetic diseases both prior to and after donation occurred. This is one of the ways in which banks safeguard to make sure you are getting healthy, good quality sperm. Once the documentation has been checked, assuming there are no flags, I arrange for the bank to ship the order directly to our clinic.

So in theory, once a patient has placed an order it should be smooth sailing while they wait for it to arrive!


Who orders donor sperm?

More people order donor sperm than you would think, and it isn’t just same-sex couples or single women that find they need to make an order. Other reasons for using donor sperm include avoiding genetic disease. For heterosexual couples that know the male partner carries a risk gene for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, donor sperm is a great way of reducing that risk, as the majority of donors now are screened for 139 cystic fibrosis risk genes.

Alternatively heterosexual couples may require donor sperm if the male partner is infertile due to sperm abnormalities or vasectomy. At the end of the day donor sperm offers the opportunity for all sorts of people to achieve their dream of starting a family!


How long does this all take?

Sadly we cannot be sure how long it will take for your sperm to arrive after you have placed an order, so our advice is to order it well in advance of any treatment you are planning. The reason we are uncertain on the time frame is because much of the process is outside of our control. For example, after placing your order with the bank, it can take over a week for them to gather and send the relevant documents to us to check. Furthermore, if there are any flags during these checks, for example a risk gene for a genetic disease has been detected, it can take quite a few weeks to explore what this means for the patient and help them evaluate their options.

Even if everything goes smoothly it’s important to remember shipping can take time - especially for orders from the European sperm bank or California Cryobank.


Do you have to order donor sperm from outside CARE?

The simple answer is no. For any patient considering the use of donor sperm they are more than welcome to use CARE’s sperm bank. Here at CARE, our sperm bank is overseen by my experienced colleague Hannah, who aims to ‘match’ patients to a suitable donor. Her role is to discuss the type of donor that a particular patient is looking for, and search our store for a particular donor that matches these requirements.

Once a match has been found, patients are presented with this and can accept the donor, or request a rematch is made until a suitable donor has been made. It is in cases where matches cannot be made based on our current donor stock, or in cases where patients would like to ‘browse’ donors that they turn to external sperm banks.

The benefit of using our bank is that it’s less legwork for patients, there are no shipping costs, and matched donors are available immediately for use in treatment.

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