At the center of small miracles

When officials at The National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility talk about a lot of “little miracles” at their organization, they refer to its very existence, its comeback – its thriving actually – after an early loss of major funding and the closing of the first hospital in New York City that housed it.
They could just as easily be talking about the new lives that result from the care provided at the Center or the women and couples who find medical treatments in line with their beliefs.
Based at St. Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick and at 40th Street and Madison Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, the Gianna Center provides reproductive health care that is in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, including general gynecological care, prenatal care, natural family planning education and infertility services.
Dr. Anne Nolte, medical director of the New York City site, co-founded the Gianna Center in December 2009. “It became very clear to me that Catholic women and Catholic families were really an underserved population when it came to medical care,” said Nolte, a family doctor with significant training in women’s health issues. “We felt that these women and families had no place to turn, and so we wanted to create a place that would serve their unique needs as they tried to live their faith.”
While open to women, couples and families of all religions, the Gianna Center is concerned about some topics that have a decided Roman Catholic ring to them: natural family planning, chastity before marriage and infertility options that go beyond – and exclude – in-vitro fertilization (IVF). To address the latter, the Gianna Center and the physicians and other health care providers who run it offer NaProTechnologyTM to couples seeking a solution to infertility.
A philanthropist who learned Nolte was pro-life – she founded a Medical Students for Life group while in medical school in Philadelphia – offered her up to $1 million to start the Gianna Center, which was named for pro-life saint Gianna Beretta Molla of Italy, a pregnant mother whose refusal of cancer surgery cost her life but saved her child’s.
When the donor lost his money in the stock market upheaval, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center in New York City offered a home to the fledging center. Four months later, the hospital folded, giving Nolte 48 hours to raise the capital needed to keep the center afloat.
Little miracle one came in the form of an almost immediate $100,000 check in the mail, but the center still needed to exist under the auspices of a Catholic hospital. Little miracle two followed on its heels when in May 2010 St. Peter’s president and CEO, Ron Rak, and chief of medicine, Dr. Nayan Kothari, visited St. Vincent’s as it was closing, looking to adopt a faith-based program that would be displaced by the closure.
After meeting with Nolte and others and while still in New York City, Rak contacted Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen, in which New Brunswick is located and which is the sponsor of St. Peter’s. The bishop, Rak recalled, told him to do what he could to keep the Gianna Center alive. Nolte and the center’s Dr. Kyle Beiter were credentialed for St. Peter’s, where obstetrician/gynecologist Beiter today oversees the New Jersey Gianna operation, opened in 2011, while Nolte oversees the New York City facility.
St. Peter’s budgets $500,000 a year for the centers. Last year, they served 1,300 patients.
Among the most important services are those for infertility. According to Beiter, NaPro Technology is “a system of women’s health care that attempts to cooperate with their natural fertility and menstrual cycles rather than suppressing them.” Physicians look for underlying causes of problems, rather than simply putting patients on the Pill or pushing for IVF.
Many times, Beiter said, IVF is a doctor’s “knee-jerk reaction” to infertility, but patients may have a condition that neither calls for nor responds to IVF, which is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church. “We do all we can to help them find and correct the underlying problems they have,” Beiter said. “We do try to go the extra step and look at subtle problems, overlooked problems.”
He emphasized that the center follows the Catholic philosophy that new life should come from “an act of love” between a husband and wife.
Some patients come from as far as Florida, Texas, California and overseas for care.
“Women deserve to have access to this. Women want access to this,” Beiter said.
Added Nolte, “A significant majority of the women actually cry because they are so grateful they can come into a safe space.” Some, she said, have been ridiculed for wanting more than two children.
Today, the Gianna Center not only is thriving, it is primed for expansion.
“Dr. Nolte and I talk about how all along the way we continue to see small miracles,” said Rak, who added that the center is a natural fit for St. Peter’s, which includes a comprehensive children’s hospital that delivers more than 6,000 babies a year and has the largest neonatal intensive care unit in the Mid-Atlantic states.
Rak’s goal is to ultimately grow the Gianna Center as a stand-alone, not-for-profit entity and to bring similar facilities to other dioceses and archdioceses throughout the country. Bishop Bootkoski and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York recently wrote to all U.S. Catholic bishops in support of the Center, and bishops in several areas have expressed an interest, including Bishop Dennis Sullivan in the Camden Diocese and others from New York State; Pennsylvania; Illinois; and New Hampshire. A practitioner serves in Allentown, Pa. The Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Trenton and Paterson have supported the existing centers by promoting them in church bulletins.
“We see there is a great deal of interest,” Rak said. “What we offer is a true alternative to traditional treatment of infertility. It’s a real alternative to women of any faith. It’s very pro-women. It gives them a choice. I believe Gianna is an important step forward in treating women and families consistent with religious principles.”

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