MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - First Alert Meteorologist Marla Branson found herself in a situation that many people deal with. She was faced with a medical problem and wanted answers, but a closed adoption kept her medical history and ancestry sealed.
Read and watch the first part of this three-part series here: Marla begins her journey to discover her past
This left her with no idea of what her future health had in store for her, and left doctors with a puzzle and many missing pieces.
"While trying to start a family, we had some obstacles to overcome," Marla says. "I was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve, basically it's like my ovaries are much older than my age, and I have a low number of viable eggs. It made getting pregnant seem impossible, exhausting and emotional. There was no clear reason for the issue, so I naturally thought it must just be bad genetic luck.
"It turns out that you can inherit genetic abnormalities that you don't know about because you don't know your medical history," says Dr. John Schnorr, Coastal Fertility Specialist.
Because of Marla's closed adoption, not knowing her medical history was one more hurdle in her efforts to have a baby.
"That can have significant implications for your current health, your future health, and more importantly your reproductive health, Dr. Schnorr says.
"Fortunately, we were blessed with a baby, but shortly after finding out I was pregnant, I also found out I'm a carrier of the genetic mutation that causes muscular spinal atrophy," Marla explains. "If my husband was also a carrier, our son could inherit the disease. I was crushed. The baby we had wanted for so long could potentially only live for hours at best. Thankfully, my husband was not a carrier."
"It's a challenge when a couple comes in and maybe on them doesn't know their full medical history," Dr. Schnorr says.
Marla says she still felt like a "genetic time bomb," and she was determined to learn more.
"We start by going over a person's history and seeing what they know about their current health," says Dr. Schnorr. "We then can often listen to their heart, lungs, do ultrasounds, do a variety of imaging tests to make sure everything else is normal in the body. But we also know that doing genetic testing becomes very important."
Marla noticed Facebook and television ads for a company called "23 and Me" that does DNA testing. The test promises to deliver over 35 reports about whether or not you could pass along genetic mutations or abnormalities like cystic fibrosis and hereditary hearing loss.
"It is fairly common," explains Erynn Gordon, Director of Clinical Development for 23 and Me. "We have more adoptees as customers of 23 and Me than you would expect."
With the 23 and Me test, you the get carrier status reports, a breakdown of your ancestry based on your DNA, interpretation of various traits, and the ability to find and reach out to DNA relatives that have also taken the 23 and Me DNA test.
"The $199 price tag seemed fair," Marla says. "I was pretty excited when the box came in the mail – 'Welcome to You' smartly printed on it."
Marla had to spit into a bottle, screw on the cap, and seal it in a bag. You register your kit online and mail it back to the 23 and Me labs. In a few weeks, an email appears in your inbox saying your results are ready, again with the slogan "Welcome to You."
"Considering I don't know much about my medical history, and nothing about where I'm from, the slogan is pretty deep," Marla admits. "Maybe I had unreasonable expectations, but the butterflies I had when I got the email telling me my results are in quickly faded."
As Marla reviewed her online results, she first checked the section about possible relatives.
"No matching relatives, I expected that," she says.
"My main goal in taking the test wasn't to find relatives, but I have to admit I'm curious," she says. "Twenty-three and Me did link me up with several distant cousins. But so far, I haven't been about to make any connections that would lead me to my birth parents or brothers and sisters."
The results in the next section surprised her.
"They didn't have anything in the carrier status report," Marla says.
Marla already knows she's a carrier for muscular spinal atrophy, and apparently, 23 and Me did not even test for it.
"What about the BRCA gene, the one linked to an increased risk of breast cancer? No report for that either. Did I waste my money?" Marla wonders.
"A lot of these reports are just weird - ear wax type? I didn't pay $200 to find that out," Marla says. She started to realize that maybe she was looking for answers in all the wrong places.
Tune in Wednesday night for the final part in Marla's search to learn more about herself, especially if you're interested in doing DNA testing yourself. She will once again talk with doctors about testing options, costs, and what your next should be after you get your results.
Read and watch the first part of her story here: