When Dr. Melanie Harker stepped on a plane Tuesday to head off for a new life in Hawaii, Blaine County lost one of its two obstetrician-gynecologists. For an area of approximately 20,000 people, that's a surprising statistic.
In the phone book, there are four listings for obstetrics-gynecology: Harker; Magic Valley Women's Health Clinic in Twin Falls; Planned Parenthood in Twin Falls and Boise; and St. Luke's Wood River Ob/Gyn, where Dr. Joseph Rodriguez practices. Harker's patients' files are being held at Magic Valley Women's Health Clinic. The Sun Valley and Hailey Medical clinics also handle obstetrics-gynecology care. Also, working in gynecology is Dr. Nancy Parry in Ketchum.
For a woman like Bellevue resident Gloria Lopez, Harker's departure is a bittersweet issue. Lopez, a patient of Harker's, tried for 15 years to conceive. At age 33, she was told there was no hope. She and her husband, landscaper Jose Carderas, moved from Mexico 13 years ago. Inexplicably, in 2001, she was feeling ill and went to see Harker, who confirmed she was three months pregnant.
She laughed when she told the story, her face splitting into a wide smile. Harker gave her a sonogram and, surprise, surprise, the woman who could not have a baby was carrying twins. A scant three months later, Lopez went into labor.
"It was a high-risk twin pregnancy," Harker said. "We did a cervical cerclauge, to keep it closed, but she went into labor during St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center's Christmas party. We had a bare-bones staff, since everyone was in Elkhorn for the party. I called over there to get some help with the emergency C-section. They came in their fancy clothes. The twins were born at 24 weeks. The nurses really rallied to get these kids on the plane."
Juan and Antonio weighed just 1 pound, and 1 pound, 2 ounces respectively when they were born. Their feet measured barely an inch. Sent immediately to Boise, they were in preemie care for four months.
While Lopez, 38, told this tale in her small, brightly decorated mobile home, she was holding 2-week-old Giovanni, who was born on time and with no complications.
"He's a good baby," she said in Spanish. "He smiles. He only cries when he's hungry." Her relief was palatable.
The now 5-year-old twins scrambled over each other to point out photos of themselves in bulging albums that Lopez pulled out to show the tiny twins to visitors. Some of the pictures of them are with Harker.
"The new baby weighed more than the twins combined," Harker said.
Arriving from Portland, Ore., she opened her practice, Every Woman's Wellness in Ketchum, seven and a half years ago.
"I was very busy and I didn't say no, so leaving was a hard. It was a great experience. My patients taught me a lot. That's for sure. But I was too busy to do it all and have a life."
Cautiously, Harker continued. "It was a difficult decision. Basically, I'm not in alignment with the political climate at the hospital. It was best for me to go out on top. I tried my best with that for a long time. I'm very much an optimist. That's what kept me going."
Harker is the author of "Ob/Gyn Intern Pocket Survival Guide," part of a series that offers interns practical, problem-solving data for situations they see every day. It was published in 1999 by International Medical Publishing.