NEW YORK — There are thousands of doctors in New York City, so the addition of another physician to the rolls wouldn’t seem to matter much.
Yet when Dr. Anne Nolte merely announced that she was planning to set up practice in Manhattan two years ago, a whole network of New York women began rejoicing.
Nolte, who was known as Dr. Mielnik before her marriage last July, is a natural-family-planning physician who does not prescribe contraceptives or refer for abortions. In a city known for its diversity and appeal to every taste, hers is the only practice in a city of 8 million people focusing solely on the Creighton Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro). That’s the system, developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, that tracks a woman’s monthly cycles and hormone levels to help detect underlying health issues and can be used to delay or achieve pregnancy in natural and morally licit ways.
When she announced her goal of opening the Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility, Nolte knew she would have enough patients, but she didn’t know how much patience and prayer would be needed to realize her dream. Even before opening its doors in Midtown Manhattan on Dec. 8, 2009, the Gianna Center lost funding from its sponsoring hospital, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, which was shuttered after declaring bankruptcy. For the next year, Nolte operated the center on her own, charging patients whatever they could pay and sought out financial donors.
The breakthrough came when she received a visit from Ronald Rak, president of St. Peter’s University Hospital, located in New Brunswick, N.J. Impressed by the authentically Catholic medical practice, Rak offered to take the Gianna Center under the hospital’s wing.
Now the Gianna Center is back in its original office in Manhattan, run by Nolte, and has opened a second office at St. Peter’s Hospital, run by Dr. Kyle Beiter, an obstetrician-gynecologist who delivers babies and performs surgery, while specializing in NaPro technology as well. Under the auspices of St. Peter’s Hospital, the Gianna Center accepts health-insurance plans again and there are plans afoot to open additional offices across the country.
“The work of the Gianna Center is totally consistent with our Catholic principles and our special emphasis on women and children,” Rak said, pointing out that St. Peter’s Hospital is sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. “Their approach to medicine fully complements what we are doing at St. Peter’s, and we are looking to expand these services beyond the confines of New Jersey. Patients come from very long distances for their services because they cannot find this kind of care where they live.”
Nolte said that the Gianna Center, named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian medical doctor who put the life of her unborn child before her own in the 1960s, “offers top medical care that is also consistent with the Catholic faith, which is a way of treating a woman patient as a whole person and seeking the underlying causes of her medical conditions.”
She said that mainstream medicine ignores the underlying cause of a woman’s problems with her menstrual cycle, and the contraceptive pill is typically prescribed, shutting down the monthly cycle with high doses of hormones. Too often, the medical reasons for infertility are left untreated when a doctor recommends in vitro fertilization or another method of conceiving outside the normal conjugal act.
Nolte observed that a faith-inspired world view draws many patients to the Gianna Center, and these patients welcome the opportunity to share their faith with a doctor who understands.
“There is a sense from our patients that finally there is a doctor who will take their faith seriously as part of the whole person,” she said. “Many women are hesitant to mention faith as a factor in their health decisions to other doctors. We also have young patients who are not married and committed to chastity who have previously encountered an attitude of disbelief or ridicule.”
Although most people think of NFP as only a Catholic Church-approved method to delay conception, the Gianna Center is serving many women from across the country who seek help with infertility problems through NaPro technology.
Maureen Wilkins and her husband, who live near Albany in upstate New York, were married nearly five years without a child when they found that physicians in their area did not know how to treat infertility in a morally acceptable way. The Catholic couple rejected in vitro fertilization, which is prohibited by the Church because it separates conception from the conjugal act by joining egg and sperm in a petri dish. The couple found a NaPro family physician in New Jersey, who eventually referred them to Dr. Beiter at the Gianna Center, where surgery was performed to treat endometriosis.
Two months after the surgery, Maureen became pregnant. She said that she and her husband, Ashton, are expecting a child in April, and hope to have a large family. “You have to trust God,” said Wilkins, who is 30 years old, “because you never know what will happen.”
Maureen Wilkins noted that she was referred for surgery earlier this year, just as Beiter joined her health plan’s network, and she views it as one of those “coincidences” that God arranges. “My husband and I couldn’t be happier,” she added. “He has been absolutely wonderful throughout this whole process, taking me to appointments, all the way from upstate New York to New Jersey and back.”
Not Just for Catholics
The Gianna Center is not just for Catholics. It also attracts pro-life Protestants and a smaller number of women who don’t like the health effects of the contraceptive pill or want a natural, holistic approach to women’s medicine, which Nolte describes as “a very woman-centered approach that cooperates with her cycle.”
Rebecca Stephens and her husband, a Lutheran pastor, were married for more than seven years, when Dr. Beiter performed surgery to correct an ovarian condition, and now they are expecting a child in 2012.
Beiter describes NaPro technology as “a very positive medical system that supports a women’s reproductive system rather than destroying or suppressing it. As far as its effectiveness, we’ve been getting some really good results.”
Register correspondent Brian Caulfield writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.