Gifford Campaign Celebrates a Vision Made Real

New nursing home, private inpatient rooms, updated Birthing Center now open

Campaign CommitteeMore than 125 supporters and friends gathered at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph on June 28 to celebrate the closing of Vision for the Future, the largest capital campaign in Gifford’s 113-year history.

“In planning our campaign we believed that every gift was important, large or modest, and that the willingness to give to support others in the community was significant,” campaign co-chair Lincoln Clark told the crowd. “We have raised $4,685,548. Our largest gift of one million dollars came from the Gifford Medical Auxiliary, which laid the foundation for a successful campaign and the hundreds of gifts that followed.”

The Auxiliary gift was especially impressive since the funds were raised primarily through small-dollar sales of “re-purposed” items at their volunteer-run Thrift Shop. The campaign’s success reflects a tremendous outpouring of community support for Gifford: more than half of the donors gave gifts under $250.

Silently launched in 2013, the campaign went public in the spring of 2014 to raise funds for an ambitious three-phased project:

  • Building a new Menig Nursing Home to anchor the Morgan Orchards Senior Living Community in Randolph Center
  • Renovating the vacated Menig space at the hospital into industry-standard private patient rooms
  • Creating a new updated and centrally located Birthing Center, with upgrades, spacious rooms, and a calming décor

Strategic planning had identified these areas as facility improvements that would ensure that Gifford could continue to provide the best possible healthcare— from newborns through old age—locally for generations to come. Each phase was carefully planned and met a specific budget and timeline: the new Menig opened in May of 2015, 25 private patient rooms opened in December 2015, and the new Birthing Center opened on June 22, 2016.

“When it was clear that the Birthing Center renovation—the final phase of the project — would open in mid-June, our campaign committee decided to celebrate the end of our campaign at the same time,” said Ashley Lincoln, Director of Development. “Our festive event celebrated the close of an especially rewarding year. As each phase was completed, campaign contributors could see firsthand the impact their gifts have had on the lives of their neighbors and friends”.

She noted that the campaign could not have succeeded without the hard work and unfailing commitment of the Campaign Steering Committee, who volunteered their time and energy: Lincoln Clark and Dr. Lou DiNicola (campaign co-chairs),Carol Bushey, Linda Chugkowski, Lyndell Davis, Paul Kendall, Karen Korrow, Sandy Levesque, Barbara Rochat, and Sue Systma.

For more information about Gifford’s Vision for the Future campaign, call Ashley Lincoln at 728-2380, or visit http://www.giffordmed.org/VisionfortheFuture.

Gifford Welcomes Certified Nurse-Midwife Julia Cook

Certified nurse-midwife Julia Cook

RANDOLPH – Certified nurse-midwife Julia Cook has joined Gifford’s team of midwives, and is now seeing patients in our Randolph and Berlin clinics.

Cook received a Master of Science in Nursing from Frontier Nursing University in Hyden, KY. Her clinical interests include adolescent care, patient education, and helping women to be active participants in their ob/gyn care.

Born in rural Louisiana, she moved to a suburb of Atlanta while in High School, and went on to get an associate of Science in Nursing from Georgia Perimeter College. She was first attracted to ob/gyn care after the birth of her first child 16 years ago.

“The midwives who cared for me were amazing—they empowered me as a woman and as a new mother,” she said. “I was intrigued by what they did, and asked them what I needed to do to start on that career path.”

When Cook finished her training she began to look for work in a smaller community, and was drawn by the story of Gifford’s Birthing Center and its pioneering efforts in family centered birth. She also appreciates that her work will include opportunities for well-women and adolescent care.

“I feel that education is so important when it comes to women’s health,” she said. “I especially enjoy working with adolescents because they are at a time in life when information about how to be healthy is taken with them as they transition into adulthood.”

Cook says her husband and four children are also excited about moving to New England, and the family looks forward to living in a smaller community and exploring all the new things Vermont offers.

To schedule an appointment, or to learn more about Gifford’s Birthing Center, please call 802-728-2401.

Gifford Celebrates Strong Foundation, Legacy of Outgoing Administrator

Joe Woodin

Administrator Joseph Woodin listens as Gifford staff and board members express appreciation for his 17 years of leadership. He will be leaving in late April.

More than 100 community members gathered for Gifford Medical Center’s 110th Annual Corporators Meeting Saturday night and heard that the Randolph-based organization is in great shape and positioned to move ahead smoothly during transition into new leadership.

Current Administrator Joseph Woodin, who will leave Gifford in late April to lead a hospital in Martha’s Vineyard, received a standing ovation for his service. Throughout the evening voices representing all areas of the organization and community shared stories and expressed heartfelt appreciation for his years of leadership.

“Joe is leaving after 17 years of extraordinary leadership, and he is leaving us in great shape,” Board of Trustee Chair Gus Meyer said. “Perhaps the most important thing he leaves us with is an exceptionally strong leadership team and staff who are able to continue on the many positive directions we have established during his tenure. His time with Gifford underscores our capacity to sustain the organizational stability, clinical excellence, creative growth, and flexible response to changes in the health care world that have come to make Gifford a uniquely strong health care system.”

The Gifford Board will appoint an interim administrator to work with the hospital’s senior management team and facilitate operations and ongoing projects at Gifford. They have begun what is anticipated to be a 4 to 6-month national search for Woodin’s replacement

In his final Administrator’s Report, Woodin, who is leaving for personal reasons, reflected on his time at Gifford. He described looking through 17 years of hospital annual reports and how moved he was as he read the stories of patients he has met and people he has worked with over the years.

“At the end of the day there are so many beautiful things that happen at Gifford, and we can forget about that,” he said. “We’re so lucky to have an organization like this!”

After a short presentation documenting the changes at Gifford during his tenure, he ended with the Morgan Orchards Senior Living Community in Randolph Center.

“I have never spent as much time or energy as I have at this organization and in this community and I have loved every minute of it,” he said in closing. “I will never be able to repeat this anywhere, and I’m hoping to retire up here in this independent living facility!”

A legacy of financial stability, vision, and growth

Highlights of Woodin’s tenure include the expansion of Gifford’s network of community health centers to include clinics in Berlin, White River Junction, Wilder, Kingwood, and Sharon; expanded patient services for all stages of life, from the creation of a hospitalist program in 2006 to provide local care for more serious illnesses, to the creation of the Palliative Care program; a new renovated ambulatory care center and expanded radiology and emergency departments; and the Morgan Orchards Senior Living Community in Randolph Center, which includes the Menig Nursing Home, independent living (construction scheduled to start in the spring), and a future assisted living facility; 25 new private inpatient rooms. A renovated and updated Birthing Center scheduled to open in the spring.

Gifford’s long-time focus on community primary care was strengthened with a Federally Qualified Health Center designation in 2013, and in 2014 it was named a top 100 Critical Access Hospital in the nation.

Long-term providers describe ongoing passion for mission and core values

Following the corporators meeting, three key long-term Gifford providers talked about what first brought them to Gifford and shared some of the changes they’ve witnessed over the years. General Surgeon Dr. Ovleto Ciccarelli, Pediatrician Dr. Lou DiNicola, and Podiatrist Dr. Robert Rinaldi each stressed that the core values that sustain Gifford’s mission are kept alive and passed on by the committed staff who work there.

Dr. Ciccarelli, noting that many long-time providers are reaching retirement age, said the qualities that brought those people to Gifford remain and continue to attract new staff. “While there are some changes, the essence of what attracted people like myself to Gifford resides here,” he said.

Dr. DiNicola said that he has stayed at Gifford for 40 years because of the community. “The people I work with, the people in the community and those I work with in the schools,” he said. “ This is my family and this is why I am here.”

Dr. Rinaldi remembered that in 2003 he was first attracted by the passion he saw in the “Gifford family.” He noted that the hallways are still filled with people who treat each other like family, and who have maintained their passion for the organization.

He concluded with a tribute to Woodin: “Joe saw these things, the family, and the passion, and the desire to be the best for each other and for every patient,” Rinaldi said. “He led us to understand our family, and to understand ourselves. He leaves knowing that he led us to success and that we will continue to be successful.”

Community scholarships and awards presented

Jeanelle Achee was awarded the Dr. Richard J. Barrett M.D. Scholarship, a $1,000 award for a Gifford employee or an employee’s child pursuing a health care education. Safeline, Inc. in Chelsea Vermont, received the $1,000 Philip D. Levesque Memorial Community Award, given annually in recognition of his personal commitment to the White River Valley.

The $25,000 William and Mary Markle Community Grant was given to community recreation departments (Bethel, Chelsea, Northfield, Randolph/Braintree/Brookfield, Rochester, Royalton, and Strafford) to support youth exercise and activity programs.

Board of trustees and directors elected and service recognized

During the business meeting, retiring members Linda Chugkowski (9 years) and Linda Morse (3 years) were recognized for their years of service.

The following slate of new community ambassadors were elected: Dr. Nick Benoit (South Royalton), Dr. Ovleto Ciccarelli (Wells), Dr. Robert Cochrane (Burlington), Dr. Marcus Coxon (Randolph Center), Christina Harlow, NP (Brookfield), Dr. Martin Johns (Lebanon), Dr. Peter Loescher (Etna, NH), Dr. Rob Rinaldi (Chelsea), Dr. Scott Rodi (Etna, NH), Dr. Ellamarie Russo-Demara (Sharon), Dr. Mark Seymour (Randolph Center), Rick & Rebecca Hauser (Randolph) and Peter & Karen Reed (Braintree).

The following were elected trustees: Bill Baumann (Randolph), Carol Bushey (Brookfield), Peter Reed (Braintree) Sue Sherman (Rochester) and Clay Westbrook (Randolph). Elected officers of the board of directors are: Gus Meyer, chair; Peter Nowlan, vice chair. Barbara Rochat, secretary. Matt Considine, treasurer.

Gifford Auxiliary Gives $1 Million to Hospital’s Capital Campaign

Funds raised through sales at popular volunteer-staffed community Thrift Shop

Gifford Auxiliary

Members of Gifford Medical Center’s Auxiliary at their quarterly membership luncheon on November 15, 2015. (Photo credit: Bob Eddy)

Gifford Medical Center’s Auxiliary announced a million-dollar gift to the hospital’s Vision for the Future campaign at the organizations quarterly membership luncheon on November 15, 2015.

Funds for the generous gift were raised through sales at the popular volunteer-staffed Thrift Shop in Randolph.

The Vison for the Future campaign is raising funds to support a multi-phased project that built the new Menig Nursing Home in Randolph Center (which opened last spring), 25 private inpatient rooms (which will open mid-December), and an updated and more centrally located Birthing Center in the hospital (planned to open next spring). The campaign needs just $800,000 to close the $5 million campaign, and hopes the Auxiliary’s gift—created through hard work and small-dollar sales—will inspire others to invest in the hospital’s future.

“This gift represents an overwhelming generosity of time and resources,” said Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin, who noted that over the years the Auxiliary has supported strategic projects (including the original Menig Extended Care wing, the Philip Levesque Medical Building, and the employee day care center) as well as annual departmental “wish list” items not included in the hospital budget. “The Auxiliary is a key part of Gifford’s success, and truly adds tremendous value to our community.”

The Thrift Shop first opened its doors in 1956 and has been providing clothing and household items to bargain hunters and those in need ever since. The 148-member Auxiliary runs the Thrift Shop, with some paid staff and many dedicated volunteers who sort through donations, clean and mend clothes, price items, stock shelves, and staff the store. Each year the Auxiliary also funds scholarships for college students pursuing health careers, financial aid for students enrolled in LNA programs, and supports other community outreach programs.

Auxiliary President Margaret Osborn says the Thrift Shop’s success can be measured in terms of money raised, but also by the enthusiasm of the volunteer workers, the creativity of employees, and the many community customers and donors.

“This million dollar gift reflects our community’s enthusiasm for re-gifting their possessions through the thrift shop, helping to ensure that we have high-quality local hospital care and good merchandise at prices everyone can afford—from fire victims to frugal shoppers,” said Osborn. “We provide an effective, simplified process that gets unused goods out to those who can use them. At the same time we offer tremendous opportunities for people with vitality and skills who want to give time to community service.”

Woodin also notes the many layers of the Thrift Shop’s community contributions. “We are so fortunate to have this unique community resource,” he said. “It helps the hospital, it helps people with limited resources, it keeps unused items from cluttering homes and out of the landfill, and it offers everyone the joy that comes with finding a good bargain. That’s a universal gratification!”

To volunteer or learn more about the Thrift shop, call (802) 728-2185. For more information about Gifford’s Vision for the Future campaign, call Ashley Lincoln at 728-2380 or visit http://www.giffordmed.org/VisionfortheFuture.

Gifford Birthing Center Welcomes Two Certified Nurse Midwives

Two certified nurse midwives have joined Gifford’s Birthing Center team: Ali Swanson, who comes to Randolph from a practice in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Vermont native Susan Paris. Established in 1977, Gifford’s Birthing Center was the first in Vermont to offer an alternative to traditional hospital-based deliveries, and continues to be a leader in midwifery and family-centered care.

Ali Swanson

Ali Swanson

Ali Swanson grew up just north of Chicago and received a BA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her clinical interests include adolescent health and waterbirth.

After working as a midwife in the inner city of Chicago for two years, she was attracted to the Canadian midwifery model (where midwives function as autonomous providers who assist in childbirth in homes, hospitals, and free standing birthing centers) and obtained her Canadian licensure. She most recently was a registered midwife at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Wanting to relocate to Vermont, she is excited to have found a community hospital where she can draw on her experiences in both hospital and out-of-hospital settings.

“Birth is a life-changing event and a very unique experience,” says Swanson. “It is all about trust and a woman’s relationship to her body, her family, and her midwife. I want to help a woman experience it in a way that is supportive and comfortable for her.”

Susan Paris

Susan Paris

Susan Paris, raised in Jeffersonville, Vermont, always knew she wanted to help women with labor and delivery. “Midwifery is in my bones,” she says.

She received a BS from Johnson State College, an Associate in Nursing from VTC, and a Master of Science in Midwifery from the Midwifery Institute of Philadelphia. She most recently worked as a labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum nurse at Martin Memorial Health Center in Florida, and has also worked at Copley Hospital and the University Medical Center of Vermont. Paris says she brings a supportive and friendly approach to her work, and also a sense of humor—“It’s supposed to be fun too!” Her clinical interests include the prenatal and birthing experience, well-women care, and adolescent care. She is pleased to be back in Vermont and part of a team that offers women a broad skill set and choices in style as well as personality.

“With childbirth you need to have many ‘tools,’ available and consider many options –you never can predict how the process will go,” said Swanson. “I want to help women along the path they’ve chosen, but I’m always prepared to adapt and be ready to move in a different direction when needed.”

The Birthing Center team brings extensive knowledge and skill to their work: four licensed midwives and three board-certified obstetricians/gynecologists with expertise in high-risk pregnancy and birth collaborate when needed to provide compassionate, 24-hour care. At each step of the process they work to personalize the process, helping women choose their best options for a positive and rewarding birth experience.

Ali Swanson and Susan Paris are currently accepting new patients. To learn more about the Birthing Center, please call 728-2257.

Local Crafters Donate Quilts for Gifford Babies

Crazy Angel Quilters donate warm, colorful quilts to Gifford’s Birthing Center

Crazy Angels

Left to right: Gifford Birthing Center Assistant Nurse Manager Kim Summers, Crazy Angel quilter Kayla Denny, and Karin Olson, RN

Gifford Medical Center’s youngest patients can leave the hospital wrapped in warmth and vibrant color thanks to a generous donation of 36 baby quilts, lovingly crafted by a group of “Crazy Angels.”

Kayla Denny, of East Bethel, brought two plastic bins filled with beautiful, carefully folded quilts to Gifford’s Birthing Center on January 20, 2015. She explained that the Crazy Angel Quilters— her mother Bobbie Denny, grandmother Gladys Muzzy, and friends Kitty LaClair, and Maggie Corey—have been meeting weekly for over a year to create the donated baby quilts.

“You don’t know how happy it makes us to be able to offer these to families,” Gifford Birthing Center Assistant Nurse Manager Kim Summers told Denny as she and Karin Olson, RN admired the colorful selection of donated quilts.

Denny, a CAT scan technologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center says she learned to quilt after her mother taught her to sew her own scrub tops for work when she finished her X-ray training. She fell in love with the craft and has been creating beautiful quilts ever since.

Crazy Angel Quilts

Baby Lola Alsup wrapped in a quilt donated by Crazy Angel Quilters

Inspired by Project Linus, a national nonprofit that provides homemade blankets to children in need, the The Crazy Angels wanted to do something for local children. “We all loved to sew and enjoyed sewing together,” said Denny. She estimates that each quilt takes five hours to complete. When not sewing with the Crazy Angels, Denny creates quilts to sell through her business, Sew Many Stitches.

Within hours of the donation, Monica and AJ Alsup of Thetford Center, VT, stood before a bed covered with quilts, trying to choose one for their day-old daughter. The happy family left for home with a sleeping baby Lola, warmly enveloped in playful owls, pink hearts, and polka dots.

Gifford Midwifery Team Holding Open House

Gifford midwifery team

Gifford’s 24-hour midwifery team includes, from left, certified nurse-midwives Meghan Sperry, Maggie Gardner, April Vanderveer and Kathryn Saunders. (Photo provided)

Gifford’s renowned midwifery team is holding an open house to introduce its recently expanded team to the community and offer some free health advice.

Gifford’s certified nurse-midwives, Kathryn Saunders, Meghan Sperry, Maggie Gardner and April Vanderveer, will hold an open house on Thursday, July 24 from 4-7 p.m. in The Family Center beside Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery off South Main Street in Randolph.

All are welcome, especially those expecting a baby, thinking of planning a family or interested in women’s health.

The open house will be an opportunity to meet the midwives, tour the Birthing Center (if it is not too full with new babies and families) and receive expert advice. In addition to the midwives, lactation consultant and childbirth educator Nancy Clark will be on hand to talk breastfeeding, child development and more. And, for those who are expecting, Gifford Vice President of Patient Care Services (and photographer) Alison White will be offering belly photos.

There will also be balloons for the kids, giveaways, refreshments and door prizes, including a belly casting kit, baby product basket, a yoga gift certificate generously donated by Fusion Studio of Montpelier and a one-hour massage generously donated Massages Professionals of Randolph.

“We’re enthusiastic for this support from Fusion Studio and Massage Professionals of Randolph, and we’re excited to introduce our team to the community. We are like-minded caregivers committed to offering women and families an experience that meets their desires and goals, while also resulting in safe and healthy pregnancies and babies,” said Sperry.

Stop by to meet the midwives and to learn more about women’s health. Call Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery at 728-2401 to learn more.

For the Love of Patients, Families, and the Community – Dr. Lou DiNicola

Dr. Lou DiNicolaBorn in New Jersey, Dr. Lou DiNicola moved to Randolph in June of 1976 to become a local pediatrician. Passing up job offers in much larger areas then and since, he chose to stay in Randolph because he’s been able to able to practice medicine as he always envisioned. He has been able to affect change on a state level; create unique, trend-setting models of health care; and demonstrate his love of the community through his work.

Married to his wife Joann for 43 years, the couple has two grown children, two grandchildren, and a third on the way. Dr. DiNicola is an outdoor enthusiast, enjoying hiking, snowshoeing, walking, and gardening. He’s also a photographer and works with his artist wife, framing her paintings. 

Dr. DiNicola has spent his entire career in Randolph while also working in Rochester from 1977-1992 with internal medicine physicians Drs. Mark Jewett and Milt Fowler. 

Below is his story as told in his own words, as featured in our 2012 Annual Report.

Thirty-six years ago I was fresh out of residency and looking for job opportunities when I saw an ad in a magazine for a pediatrician in rural Vermont. Vermont was where I wanted to work, so I sent in my curriculum vitae, the medical equivalent of a resume, but never heard a word back. I called but the response was less than enthusiastic. I was basically told “thanks, but no thanks.”

I had three job offers in Pittsburgh and was literally sitting down to take a job at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where I’d just completed my internship and residency when my pager went off. It was Gifford President Phil Levesque’s secretary, wondering if I could come up in a couple of weeks for an interview. “I’ll come this weekend, or I’m not coming at all” was my response. The secretary covered the phone, relaying my message to Phil. “Hell, let him come” was his reply.

Needless to say, I came, and stayed.

More than three decades later I hope I have made a positive impact on the community and my patients, and know they have made a remarkable impact on me – teaching me how to communicate care, respect, and love.

It’s amazing how much you can love your patients. Also amazing is the window being a pediatrician gives you to see the love between a parent and a child. No more clearly is that demonstrated than in the unconditional love between a parent and a special needs child. More than once, parents of special needs children have amazed me and inspired me, as have the children themselves. I’ve seen parents of special needs children go on to adopt more children with special needs. Those are the moments that touch you most; those, and loss.

Dr. Lou DiNicola

Dr. DiNicola thumb wrestles with patient Troy Daniels.

There is no greater loss than the loss of a child. Throughout my career, there have been car accidents, disease, malignancies, and newborn deaths. I think of two patients I lost to cancer, both of whom I visited at their bedsides at home as they were dying. As I reflect on my career, I think of them not with tears but fondness because of the relationships I have had with their families.

At Gifford, we are small enough to have that closeness with our patients and courageous enough to get up the next day and reflect on what we did or didn’t do, what we could have done differently, and how we can improve care. This ability to affect change is one of the things that has kept me practicing – happily – in this community and state for so many years.

One of the biggest changes Gifford has been able to enact in health care is around childbirth. When I first came to Gifford, I kept hearing about this guy Thurmond Knight, a local physician who was delivering babies in people’s homes. I met Thurmond at a Medical Staff meeting. He was knitting. I asked him what it would take for him to deliver babies at the hospital. He answered “a Birthing Center”. We opened the Birthing Center (the first in the state of Vermont) 35 years ago in 1977.

I’ve also been fortunate to be part of and help form organizations that were decades ahead of their time, in many ways laying the foundation for today’s medical home and Vermont Blueprint for Health models as well as utilizing computers for communication at the advent of the computer revolution. Additionally, Vermont has provided me with the opportunity to work on important legislation, such as child abuse laws, outlawing corporal punishment in schools, mandatory kindergarten, and the recent immunization law. These opportunities along with the privilege of making a difference in kids’ and families’ lives keep me going.

One of the things I find incredibly rewarding is living and working in the same town. I don’t mind if I run into someone downtown and they ask me a question. And I feel it’s so important that we recognize and talk to kids. One way I have been able to successfully converse and care for kids for so long is through humor. I try to infuse that in my appointments with children and often am treated – sometimes at unexpected moments – to humor in return.

One such humorous moment came from a 5-year-old. I try to end all my appointments by asking if patients have any questions for me. This 5-year-old’s question: “Why do frogs jump so high?” Should I ever write a book, I think this will be the title.

~ Lou DiNicola, M.D.
Gifford pediatrician

Dr. Lou DiNicola

Above left – Dr. DiNicola in 1979. Above right – Dr. DiNicola with Kim Daniels of Berlin and her adopted son Troy. Troy along with his siblings, Maggie, Ben, and Alex, were patients of Dr. DiNicola’s for years. Dr. DiNicola credits Kim, who had a special needs child and then adopted two more, with showing him the true meaning of love and parenting. Troy credits Dr. DiNicola with seeing him as a person.

South Royalton Family Welcomes First Baby of New Year at Gifford

Gifford Medical Center

Mom Sara Bowen, big sister Cassidy Sedor and dad Shawn Sedor, all of South Royalton, cuddle their newest family member – Kaydence Sedor, born on Jan. 2 at Gifford Medical Center and the Randolph hospital’s first baby of the new year.

RANDOLPH – Sara Bowen and fiancé Shawn Sedor of South Royalton were the first to welcome a baby in the new year at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

Bowen gave birth to daughter, Kaydence Sedor, on Jan. 2 at 10:29 p.m. A gorgeous and healthy Kaydence weighed in at 7 pounds 12 ounces and is 20 ½ inches long.

She is the couple’s second child. Two-year-old Cassidy Sedor was also born at Gifford.

The family was excited to have the first baby of the new year. “It’s really cool, actually,” said Bowen, but they were more excited with the newest member of their family, regardless of her birthdate.

“I’m lost for words. I love my kids. They’re amazing. (There’s) nothing better than to have kids,” said Bowen, who was originally due to give birth on Dec. 28.

Gifford Medica Center“We’ve got another little one to add to the family. (Kaydence) has someone to look up to and (Cassidy) has someone to take care of,” added Shawn. “I’m just glad that she’s healthy. We are lucky to have this blessing in our life.”

Couple Travels from Armenia to Give Birth at Gifford

Married couple Elvira Dana and Jason Kass live and work in Armenia, a developing country once part of the Soviet Union.  When it came time to have children, however, Dana and Kass looked outside of Armenia for care.

Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

Elvira Dana and Jason Kass hold 3-year-old Gideon and newborn Natalie at a family home in Northfield. The married couple has come home to Vermont from Armenia – traveling for 36 hours – to have both their children at Gifford Medical Center.

They looked to Dana’s native Vermont, specifically Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

For each of their child’s births – first Gideon three years ago and then Natalie late last month – the family flew back to Vermont.

“When Gideon came along we decided very quickly we needed to be back in the U.S. for the birth,” says Dana, who grew up in Northfield and was one of Gifford’s early Birthing Center patients nearly 35 years ago.

Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

She got her prenatal care – such that it was – in Armenia and e-mailed test results and information to Gifford’s team of certified nurse-midwives.  “They were willing to be flexible about some pretty strange pre-natal care,” says Dana, noting some documents sent had been translated from Russian and Armenian.

At 36 weeks of pregnancy (the latest point in a pregnancy that women are recommended to fly and often the latest point an airline will allow a pregnant woman in the air) Dana, with Kass at her side, traveled the 36 hours home.  Gifford childbirth education and lactation consultant Nancy Clark provided the couple a crash course in birthing.

Gideon was born the morning after that final birthing class.  He arrived two weeks early and just two-and-a-half hours after Dana made it to the hospital.

Hurricane Sandy this year delayed the family’s flight and Dana ended up flying – a bit nervously – at 37 weeks.  But Natalie was patient, arriving on Nov. 26, one day after her due date and about an hour and forty-five minutes after the family made it to the hospital.

Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

In both instances, says the couple, the atmosphere, low-intervention birth experience, and friendliness of staff were exactly what the family was seeking.

“Nobody was stressed.  It was so calm.  It was just us, a midwife and a nurse with no beeping noises.  Everyone we interacted with was so kind, including the cleaning and food services staff,” Dana says.

Pediatrician Dr. Lou DiNicola – Dana’s pediatrician growing up – checked on both babies following their births.  The children have both gotten their pediatric care at Gifford while they’re in the state.  And in fact, they even called Gifford, reaching Dr. DiNicola as the on-call pediatrician, when Gideon spiked a high fever in Armenia and the couple didn’t know what to do, says Kass, 37 and formerly of Randolph Center.

Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

It is the consistency of the care provided at Gifford, says Dana, that gives the couple the confidence to fly in and give birth with a midwife they may never have met or entrust their child’s care with a pediatrician who may not be a familiar face.

“Mostly we just feel so incredibly lucky,” says Dana, cradling her newborn.Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

Service through the Peace Corps first took Dana to Armenia in 2005.  Putting her master’s degree in teaching English as a second language to work, she taught English and trained teachers.  She then was hired as Armenia country director of American Councils, a non-profit that administers U.S. State Department and international educational programs, including student exchanges.

Jason joined her in Armenia in 2008, working in the scant Armenia job market and for meager Armenian wages as a head gardener at a renovated public park.

Presently staying with family in Northfield, the couple and their now two children will fly back to Armenia on Feb. 4.  Natalie will need a passport before they can go.  Bilingual young Gideon is on his second passport, having already filled one in his three years of life.

The family hopes to make Vermont their permanent home one day again soon – at least by the time Gideon will start school.

Couple Travels From Armenia To Give Birth At Gifford

The Kass family plays together. They are in Vermont from Armenia to have their latest child, newborn Natalie, at Gifford Medical Center’s Birthing Center.