St. John Paul II has inspired countless people to respect life, including many in Austin, Texas, home of the John Paul II Life Center.
"We are an ob-gyn clinic, a crisis-pregnancy center and a pro-life educational place," said Tim Von Dohlen, who, with his wife, Pat, founded this life center named for John Paul II in 2010. "We’re somewhat unique, in that we have all three elements."
The center offers Church-approved treatments for infertility through NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. It also offers the latest 3-D and 4-D sonograms and chastity presentations by well-known speakers like Jason Evert.
Von Dohlen was chairing a group called Voices for Life in the Austin Diocese when the idea for the center developed.
"With the death of John Paul II, a group of us met and decided it was time to stop talking and take action," he said. "Our desire was to create a full ob-gyn clinic — and, in addition, a state-of-the-art sonogram center and a full educational component."
They wanted to work closer with the Church, but needed independent status to fulfill such a far-reaching vision — a vision that includes the Vitae Clinic, which provides a full range of obstetrical services for women, from pre-conception and prenatal care to delivery and postnatal care, plus miscarriage prevention, high-risk pregnancy care and infertility treatments.
Von Dohlen and the group spent a significant amount of time identifying physicians trained in the NaPro method of treatment. They turned to the leader in this field, the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb. With the help of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., they met the institute’s Dr. Thomas Hilgers and his wife, Sue.
"They helped us to identify and review potential physicians," Von Dohlen said, "and, today, we work closely with the Paul VI Institute."
In fact, the medical director that they found for the Vitae Clinic, Dr. Jeremy Kalamarides, was a research assistant at the Pope Paul VI Institute who trained directly with Hilgers. Kalamarides’ wife, Heather, who also trained at the Paul VI Institute and works at the Vitae Clinic, is an experienced practitioner of the FertilityCare System.
With the clinic in place, John Paul II Life Center opened in October 2010, just two blocks from Seton Medical Center, Austin’s Catholic hospital.
Since then, the clinic has seen more than 2,300 patients; last year alone, Kalamarides delivered 300 babies. In addition, because of his knowledge of NaPro Technology, the doctor has been able to successfully help 33 women become pregnant and have children, even though they were believed to be infertile for as many as 12 years.
"It is the best-kept secret in what can benefit women — to appreciate the dignity of the women themselves and to also appreciate the beauty of their own fertility," said Von Dohlen.
And then there are the little lives saved. Women who come to the crisis-pregnancy center overwhelmingly change their minds once they see the free sonogram in 3-D or 4-D. Von Dohlen credits the assistance of the Knights of Columbus in obtaining this life-affirming equipment.
John Paul II Life Center’s executive director, Kimberly Speirs, has many stories of success to share, including the story of a young woman named Diana, whose parents wanted her to have an abortion.
"Friends of ours at a Catholic radio station prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for her and her parents," said Speirs, "and when she told her dad, he told his wife that the baby was ‘our grandchild.’ That all connects to John Paul II as well — and the chaplet is one of Diana’s favorite prayers." Diana and her son, Enrique, are doing well.
Speirs points out that, so far during 2014, the center has helped more than a woman per week to choose life for her unborn child. "Our focus is providing them with hope," she said.
John Paul II’s presence at the center is visible in more than one way. The center has a relic of the new saint in its chapel, and it has a huge Divine Mercy image that was blessed by John Paul II in 2003.
And, last April, there was an enshrinement of a second-class relic of St. Gianna Molla — the Italian mother and physician who was canonized by John Paul II and whose feast day is April 28 — in a formal ceremony conducted by Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez. Fifty health-care workers and pro-life leaders attended. There is also a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, at the center. In addition to Our Lady, St. Joseph is a patron.
The patronage and the pro-life message are bearing fruit for young people. The educational arm that teaches about chaste living has drawn large numbers of teens and parents for events.
With all of its success, there is much need to grow. The center is actively looking for a second physician to join the team. At the same time, the center is entering a collaboration agreement with Seton Hospital to serve as a model for educating health-care professionals in NaPro Technology in the Ascension Health Care network.
"We’re trying to work with other cities in and outside of Texas to develop a center like we have," said Von Dohlen.
The center is also presenting Church-approved infertility-treatment information at churches like Sacred Heart in Austin.
"They are not just another pro-life advocacy group," said Father Mark Hamlet, pastor of Sacred Heart. "What makes the whole unit work is that they are actually in the trenches," added Father Hamlet. "I keep their brochures in my confessional."
Looking to the intercession of the center’s namesake, Von Dohlen feels blessed. "It’s been remarkable what God has done to help us. Through Our Lady and her prayers and intercession — and John Paul’s — we have seen positive things accomplished."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.