Tara White stared going on medical missions in 2007 and quickly got hooked. Having worked in the healthcare industry for years, the experience of going where the poorest needed help the most touched her heart deeply and brought her to encounter God in a new way. In her mission experience, Christ opened her eyes to his love and how she could bring Him to others, changing her life forever. She experienced the start of her own conversion of heart, and knew this was the apostolate within the Regnum Christi movement that God was calling her to serve in.
Year after year, Tara went to Guatemala with Dr Alma Levy, a fellow Louisiana native, seeing the sick and suffering, mostly women, whose illnesses often stemmed from sexually transmitted infections and hormonal problems that were either poorly treated or made worse by contraception and sterilizations. There, she saw repeated issues with different women, but whose stories were the same. Their dignity was constantly being compromised through their culture which was perpetuated by a lack of understanding on how their bodies were created to function. Many of these women were being “treated” by Planned Parenthood, who also has a presence there, and were receiving permanent, or semi-permanent sterilization unbeknownst to them. One such woman went into Dr. Levy’s clinic asking the question “What is this rod in my arm?” It was the birth control, Nexplanon, which is a rod that is implanted into a woman’s arm and typically lasts around 4 years. She was having serious complications from it and didn’t even know what it was.
Tara’s heart broke for these Guatemalan women and the suffering she knew all too well. She had personally dealt with multiple fertility issues over the last 15 years. After an in-vitro fertilization attempt failed, her fertility specialist stated it was highly unlikely she would ever get pregnant on her own. She came out of the process emotionally, physically and spiritually hopeless. After a profound spiritual conversion, she submitted her will to God’s and was miraculously blessed with 2 beautiful children. Through Tara’s mission work, her own personal bouts with infertility, and her faith, she became fully committed to promoting a more effective, alternative solution to what the modern fertility clinics have to offer; a fertility clinic that allowed God to heal the mind, body and spirit, and most importantly, allowed God to have the final say, not modern medicine – always leaving room for hope and miracles.
Ready to act on this immediately, Tara and Dr Levy started coaching local women in a parish in Guatemala to teach Natural Family Planning to the poor women that had been coming to the medical missions, thus helping them to understand God’s plan for their bodies and their fertility.
A Mission Field at Home
Coming home to Covington, Louisiana, Tara started talking to her friend and fellow Regnum Christi member, Laura Kiper, about her personal struggle and the work she was doing in Guatemala. Though Tara was able to have children, she was still having unresolved issues related to her fertility cycle. Laura, a registered nurse, shared with Tara her own story of secondary infertility and how Creighton and NaProTechnology was helping her become healthy in a way that supported her faith and God’s plan for women. After 7 years of unexplained secondary infertility, and doctor after doctor telling her to give up hope, she reluctantly agreed to see a NaPro doctor, but was not expecting any answers, and she certainly didn’t get her hopes up. Not only did she receive an answer for her “unexplained” infertility, but she went on, after treatment, to conceive 3 more children. For Laura, Creighton was a God-send, but it was difficult even for the most devoted believer to practice since it meant going to multiple healthcare providers, specific labs for blood tests, specific pharmacies, and fighting with insurance time and time again. “It shouldn’t be this hard”, she said, to follow the church’s teachings on fertility and openness to life. She told Tara about her dream to make it simple for women who want solid Catholic healthcare to be able to go to one place and be supported in their fertility and faith without it being so complicated.
Together, the 2 of them realized that they had a common goal to awaken women to God’s plan for them and their bodies. They also saw that working with women afflicted with spiritual poverty in the United States and the 9 million US couples afflicted with infertility was as much of a mission field as Guatemala was. They got together with Dr Levy, John Schembre- a pharmacist, and Dr. Bart Sellers- a Chiropractor, who are also all members of Regnum Christi, and started talking about what they could do to make this dream a reality.
On one of her mission trips, Tara had met someone who knew Joan Nolan, the founder of the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility in New York City. The Gianna Center had started as a personal dream for Joan Nolan, in her parish basement, and became a center with multiple locations that provides general gynecological care, prenatal care, natural family planning education, and infertility services – all with a deep commitment to honoring a woman’s dignity and the sanctity of human life. The National Gianna Center is dedicated to providing a more natural alternative to assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization through NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model Fertility Care System.
Tara called Joan Nolan and began a relationship that would support her as she and her team in Louisiana started to make plans to do something similar in the south. Joan’s first directive was to call the Archbishop and ask for his permission for a Gianna Center to be allowed within his Archdiocese.
In Holy week of 2013, Laura Kiper spoke to Archbishop Gregory Aymond and received an appointment to meet and discuss with the Archbishop his approval of a local Gianna Center. The meeting was attended by Joan Nolan, from New York, Tara, Laura, and Alma in their home Archdiocese of New Orleans, and not only received his permission, but his blessing and his decision to be on the board of the new Gianna Center of the South. Spurred on by this support, Tara, Laura, John, Alma, Bart and Dr Anne Nolte from New York began speaking about their project at Loyola University and church parishes around the archdiocese.
Picture: (l-r) Dr Anne Nolte, Dr Bart Sellers, Dr Christine Hemphill, Dr Alma Levy, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Laura Kiper, John Schembre, Thomas McKenna
From that point on God started putting all the pieces together in amazing ways. Benefactors began to come forward, including the Catholic Foundation, enthusiastically supporting this project and seeing how uniquely it addressed the needs of pro-life women’s health care. 18 months later, they had raised $580,000 and were equipped to open the first Gianna Center of the South, bringing on Dr. Christine Hemphill, an OBGYN who had completed a fellowship in Medical and Surgical NaProTECHNOLOGY® at the Pope Paul VI Institute with Dr. Thomas Hilgers, co-creator of the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System.
The clinic still needed one thing- a location they could afford but that would serve their medical needs. Doing some research on commercial real estate the entire board was getting discouraged because financially many properties were extremely too expensive. Tara asked Dr Alma Levy, who had a relationship with a local doctor whose business partner, an OBGYN, had just recently passed away unexpectedly. They approached him to ask if they could rent the space that was no longer being used for a price they could afford, and he said yes, leasing them a 3,000 square foot fully equipped OBGYN office.
Another Regnum Christi member and talented interior designer, Rachelle Woodward, donated her services so that the clinic would be a place where the décor would help women feel warm and comfortable. The center is decorated by beautiful donated Catholic and pro-life art, in particular, the photographic work of a local artist who has Down syndrome. Each room has a crucifix and walking into the center, it is clear that Christ is the center of this medical practice.
The Gianna Center of the South opened in June 2015 and is a fully functioning OBGYN clinic specializing in NaPro technology and the Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrMS), which helps women find and heal the root causes of the fertility problems and other medical issues. It is the Gulf South’s only comprehensive obstetrics, gynecology, and fertility medical center with a NaProTECHNOLOGY surgery-trained OBGyn, specializing in safe and effective IVF alternatives in addition to full-spectrum OBGyn care, grounded in the dignity of each patient as a whole person. From routine and high risk deliveries, to VBACS, to NaPro surgeries and Creighton Model FertilityCare System helping women avoid or achieve pregnancy, to well woman care, and adolescent gynecology rooted in Theology of the Body, they are providing Catholic medical services to 700 patients at this point.
Leslie, a patient at the Gianna center, first attended an information session about the services they offer to support a friend who was involved. She says that the Gianna center “changed me in so many ways. Fear had caused my husband and I to never have intercourse without a barrier method of protection. I did not understand my body or my cycle so I really believed I was always fertile and so we never had “unprotected” sex. Through charting, I grew to understand my cycle and grew to understand that sex without a barrier, as God intended it, truly increased our emotional, mental and physical intimacy.
I also found some answers to my PMDD symptoms that had grown to be so “normal” to me. At the end of my cycle, for about 7 days before my cycle started again, I felt depressed and had a couple of days I did not want to get out of bed. Allison recognized these symptoms, put me on a very low dose of Naltrexone (which is a NaProTechnology treatment) and I was balanced and emotionally felt amazing throughout my cycle! It felt absolutely miraculous!”
In the 15 months since they opened, demand has been so great that the Gianna center is now working to bring on a second physician. They are also fundraising to launch an education program for adolescent girls called “Illuminate” to teach them about their bodies and God’s plan for their fertility based on solid science and Theology of the Body. Their long term plans include working with local university medical schools to train physicians in NaPro technology and building their own facility, with a pharmacy that abides by Catholic teaching, a surgery center, and a chapel. An immediate need they have is for a new ultrasound machine which the doctors can use to care for the unborn children of their patients, along with evaluating and treating fertility issues. The local Knights of Columbus have worked to raise $10, 000 of the $80,000 total cost for this and they are looking for more help.
The Gianna Center was inspired by God and made possible by him, and the board knows that they depend on him to continue to make the work they are doing possible. While they do accept healthcare plans, caring for women’s fertility is not the financial goal of most insurance company’s compensation policies, and often, what they pay for a procedure will be inadequate to cover the cost of the delicate work needed to heal a woman’s fertility as opposed to quick surgeries and treatments which only treat the symptoms, such as contraception and hysterectomies.
For Tara and Laura, their personal suffering and experience of God’s love has been the catalyst for a vital mission and a gift to the women of Louisiana, something bigger than they could have imagined. For them, and their fellow Regnum Christi members who saw the need around them and together decided to act on what God was asking them to do, the Gianna center is a miracle that they hope will become an institution in the south and help bring other Gianna Centers to exist around the United States as well as in the third world countries which are still so dear to Tara’s heart.
“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.” -Archbishop Fulton Sheen
The Purpose of the Gianna Center of the Gulf South is to help women achieve this level of dignity, by providing authentic health care and education for women of all ages, in support of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
For more information, to donate, or to sign up for their newsletter, visit www.giannagulfsouth.org