Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Gianna: The Catholic Healthcare Center for Women"

New women's health center offers reproductive care, gynecology



Women facing infertility and other reproductive difficulties have a new place to turn to for help. It's in Manhattan, and it offers something that has not previously been available in the region: a specially developed infertility treatment that is both effective and pro-life.

The new facility is "Gianna: The Catholic Healthcare Center for Women." In addition to treating infertility, it offers general women's health care including obstetrics, prenatal care and routine gynecology. Everything it does is in accord with Church teaching on marriage, sexuality, procreation and the dignity of human life.

Its method of treating infertility is based on a complete understanding of the way a woman's body works, and also can be used to avoid pregnancy.

All patients are welcome regardless of their beliefs, but the center's pro-life ethic and its founders' faith touch every aspect of its work.

"We are Catholic, so that shapes the way we treat each person," said co-founder Dr. Anne Mielnik.

The Gianna Center is sponsored by St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and is part of the hospital's health care system. It is located at 15 E. 40th Street.

Dr. Mielnik is a family physician specializing in women's health and infertility. Her co-founder is Joan Nolan of Syracuse, a specialist in natural family planning. Last year they established the John Paul II Center for Women, a nonprofit organization, with the goal of creating centers throughout the United States to offer pro-life medical care to women and to give them an alternative to treatments that are not pro-life, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Gianna Center, which opened officially on Dec. 8, is the first of the centers they envision.

The center uses NaPro Technology to treat infertility and to assist couples to avoid pregnancy. NaPro—the trademarked name stands for "natural procreative technology" was developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.

Working with Dr. Mielnik is Dr. Kyle Beiter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who completed a yearlong fellowship in NaPro Technology and studied under Dr. Hilgers.

In a recent interview, Dr. Mielnik talked about some of the differences between IVF and NaPro Technology. IVF involves the creation of embryos in a laboratory which are then implanted into the uterus. If the embryos begin to grow, one or more are almost always aborted. Unused embryos are frozen and stored.

NaPro does not involve the creation, abortion or storing of embryos. With NaPro, women use a specially designed method to track their cycles and find the underlying causes of their infertility. The doctor then prescribes either medical treatment or surgery aimed at making conception possible.

Dr. George Mussalli, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, at St. Vincent's Hospital, said in an interview that "New York City is very fortunate to have this center opening.

"It adds more choices for women beyond what is offered," he said. "It opens new opportunities for the community we serve."

He added that the NaPro method "utilizes natural procreative technology, so its appeal is not going to be only to women of Catholic faith who are trying to have reproductive care aligned with their beliefs."

"It is also going to appeal to many women who are looking for a natural or holistic approach to their reproductive health care."

Both Dr. Mielnik and Dr. Beiter do NaPro consultation; Dr. Beiter also does surgery.

Dr. Beiter told CNY, "We feel we're offering patients an ethically sound program of women's health care that rivals or excels conventional obstetric-gynecological treatments."

Dr. Mielnik said that NaPro looks "very promising" in resolving infertility. Up to 70 percent of couples have been helped to achieve a successful pregnancy, while the success rate for IVF is 45 percent after three cycles of treatment and 51 percent after six cycles, she said.

Dr. Mielnik noted that other approaches to reproductive issues either "suppress the fertility cycle," as with chemical contraception, or "bypass the system" as with IVF. NaPro cooperates with a woman's system and, where needed, restores normal function.

"Our approach is restorative; it respects the natural ecology of a woman's body," Dr. Mielnik said.

The Gianna Center also has an educational component, and that's a "critical" part of its mission, Dr. Mielnik said. She wants every woman to understand "her own dignity as a child of God" and the "gift of fertility" that is part of womanhood.

When a woman understands both herself and the "profoundly beautiful cycle that brings new life into the world," then Church teaching about marriage, sexuality and reproduction makes sense, Dr. Mielnik said.

She stressed, however, that the center welcomes all patients, and that no one will be "pressured or judged."

Dr. Mielnik, 32, originally from Pennsylvania, said her commitment to human dignity and pro-life values began early. As a teen, she was "tormented" by human rights abuses described on television. As a pre-med student at Villanova University, she worked at a crisis pregnancy center. While studying at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, she founded a student pro-life group and brought in pro-life speakers, postabortive women, trainers in pro-life counseling and others. She also founded a citywide pro-life group for medical students.

She expressed her views freely in classes, she said. And although she encountered plenty of opposition in public, "in private, countless students would come up to me and say, ÔI share your values,' " she said.

The Gianna Center is named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian physician, wife and mother of four who died in 1962. Ill during her fourth pregnancy, she refused a potentially lifesaving hysterectomy—which Church teaching would have allowed—in order to save her baby. She was canonized in 2004.

"She's a personal favorite of mine," Dr. Mielnik said.

Her hope for the Gianna Center is that it will serve "the Catholic population of women in this city that has been crying out for health care consistent with their values."

She hopes that couples struggling with infertility who might be thinking of IVF will discover that "there is an alternative that is effective, less expensive and morally acceptable that will allow them to conceive through a natural act of intercourse."

The Gianna Center accepts most major medical insurance plans including Medicaid.

Information: 212-481-1219

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