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How Dr. Sem brings even the most complex pregnancy to a successful conclusion

 By Angela Wampler

Old attitudes die hard. In the past, when women miscarried, "try, try again" was the advice. But when Rebecca Nicholadis suffered nine unsuccessful pregnancies -- six first trimester miscarriages, two second trimester in-utero deaths, and one premature baby who died before eaving the hospital -- she was under standably frustrated and angry about her medical care and her condition
She read Dr. Stefan Semchyshyn's book, How to Prevent Miscarriage and Other Crises of Pregnancy, then became his patient, making four-hour roundtrips for office visits. Confident with his "tried and true" methods and "won derful" bedside manner, she had a healthy son with no handicaps or birth defects.

In the past, many patients came to Dr. "Sem" (as he is often called by his patients) as a last resort, after suffering multiple pregnancy failures -- up to 12 miscarriages, nine preterm births (most of whom did not survive), and four still births. Now he gets referrals when preterm delivery is immi nent the first time, so he can intervene, prolong the pregnancy and save the couple traumatic loss in the first pregnancy. although many patients claim he performs miracles, Dr. Sem says, "Not me, the glory be longs to Him, the Almighty." Doctor.

Sem knows the reason for his success is "God's Good Graces" (he calls them the "three G's").   "All I am doing is performing good medicine. I am doing my best, and God will do the rest," he says.  Dr. Sem has it on pretty high authority that his work helping women go through difficult pregnancies is worthwhile. "Help the babies and save lives," Pope John Paul II told the Wellmont/Holston Valley  high-risk pregnancy specialist during a Vatican audience several years ago.

Whenever he's able to assist in the birth of a child whose survival is in doubt, Dr. Sem says his work is exhausting, but success is "like climbing Mount Everest."

When one out of four women experiences the emotional and physical pain of losing a baby, health care costs also rise, despite increased utilization of high technology.

The answer is prevention -- redefining prenatal care, setting new standards and exceeding the limits, changing attitudes from crisis intervention to crisis prevention. Through such change, the war against infant mortality can be won, and high quality at a reduced cost is possible. Dr. Sem should know. He has a remarkable 97.5 percent success rate of bringing healthy babies to term in his practice as a maternal-fetal specialist. Dr. Sem is one of the few leading authorities

Mother Teresa and Dr. Sem share the same philosophies and value the sanctity of life. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sem.


on high-risk preg nancy in the United States. Maternal-fetal medicine is a subspecialty of Obstetrics/ Gynecology, dealing with pregnancies where mother/infant health or welfare is endangered or potentially compromised. Dr. Sem works closely with referring physicians. He
delicately orchestrates the team, including nurses, obstetricians, neonatologists, radiologists, geneticists, pediatric cardiolo gists, nutritionists, and family practitioners. If a woman has already lost a child or given birth prematurely, Dr. Sem is asked to help do some medical sleuthing and narrow down the list of possible causes. He also offers genetic counseling and prenatal testing. He sees boardrooms and babies as "critically connected," with shrinking resources, an increasing number of women in  the workforce and single parent families, and the mobility of Americans placing demands on prenatal care.

"In the U.S. we transplant multiple organs and bone marrow, separate Siamese twins successfully, and perform in-utero fetal surgery. Yet, when it comes to helping our new borns survive their first birthday, we fall behind some 20 other nations in the world," he says. "The reason is: we do not practice enough prevention. There is no better way of ensuring a brighter future for our children than to have them well born, not too small, not too soon."

Dr. Sem is concerned about new insurance regulations that reduce the length of hospital stays for first-time moth rs or rarely cover preventative tests/procedures in interven tion. He says doctors now perform a battery of tests out of fear of being sued. This defensive mechanism replaces important communication between doctor and patient, while insurance companies pay much higher costs for the care mother and baby receive if the child is premature. "With proper reorientation to childbirth, we can improve quality and reduce the cost," he says. Dr. Sem advocates his pro grams -- Pregnancy Literacy, whereby expectant parents are empowered to spot problems early, and Partnership in Pregnancy, whereby patients are active participants in their care  -- as "the only ways we will make an impact on infant mortality. We are all in it to gether --providers, consumers and payers of prenatal care."

He cites one couple --a lawyer and a neonatal intensive care nurse, with no barriers to prenatal care, but"pregnancy illiterate" -- who had a premature baby with all the associ ated risks: she is blind and suffers multiple handicaps, and her hospital bill was $270,000. When the couple conceived again, at the same risk for prematurity, they became "pregnancy literate." Their second child was born normal, at term and
the medical bill was $470.

"Consider the case of an imminent birth at 23 weeks," Dr. Sem notes. "Such a baby, if it survives, would easily cost $500,000-$1 million by the time it goes home. This does not include lifelong needs for rehabilita tive and supportive care or loss of income. Conserva tive
estimates indicate that invest ing one dollar in prevention will save four dollars in medical costs later. The techniques I employ can yield a 10- to-100-fold return on invest ment.

"High quality does not necessarily mandate high cost," Dr. Sem continues. "I estimate my program has saved in excess of $25 million in health care costs in one year alone. The question is not: can we afford to do it? The question is: can we afford not to? Babies and money are at stake."

Dr. Sem has become a role model of the caring, dedicated practitioner who treats both the physical and emotional wounds associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature labor. One patient says his "intense  drive... .is matched with incredible warmth, humor and a sincere concern for the individual patient." He credits his intensity and dedication to having been blessed with two normal, healthy children of his own.

Although Dr. Sem is very caring, his patients admit that while he shares information and responsibility with them, he uses a lot of common sense, including house calls. On the other hand, he takes advantage of modern technology and uses the most sophisticated de vices -- from high-resolution ultrasound to home uterine monitoring devices to electroni cally controlled infusion pumps delivering medicine -- which permit even high-risk patients to be as active and productive during pregnancy as humanly possible.
"There are doctors who take a first miscarriage as seriously as their patients do. After the first loss, they work closely with their patients -- and high-risk pregnancy specialists—to make sure the next pregnancy is a successful one. There are even some maverick doctors who, like myself, try to prevent the first miscarriage," Dr. Sem states.

Dr. Sem believes the style of care he advocates can benefit all women -- and possibly revolutionize the practice of obstet rics. "Basics such as patient education and involvement in the pregnancy and birthing process should be offered by all obstetricians to all expectant mothers," he says, "so a low risk pregnancy can be kept low risk, and a high-risk pregnancy can be transformed into a normal experience."
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, blessed Dr.Sem's work and asked him
to save all the babies he can. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sem.

Dr. Sem's method works. It saves money and lives, ensur ing a brighter future for the next generation.

Dr. Stefan Semchyshyn's per sonal life, as well as his professional life, is something of an international saga.

Born in Yugoslavia (now called Bosnia), one of 11 children raised on a small farm, he worked as a machinist before completing his education. His early dreams of becoming a jet pilot or an actor evolved into a strong desire to continue learning. He chose the medical field because "I could do a lot of things for a lot of people,help people directly," he says.

With over 20 years of profes sional experience, his current dream is to establish a perinatal care center where his "miracles of life"program can be expanded.

After fleeing communism and emigrating to Canada, in medical school he discovered that in delivering babies, "you're part of the beginning of life." When he saw women having pregnancy and childbirth difficulties, he personally researched new medical techniques for high-risk pregnancy.

As president of Partnership in Pregnancy Institute, Inc. in New Jersey, Dr. Sem joined several medical delegations that went behind the Iron Curtain to ex change scientific knowledge. Today he continues to lecture and share his experiences abroad.

In 1990 he received the Hospital News of New Jersey Exceptional Service Award. In 1994 he re ceived the Healthcare Volunteer Award from the March of Dimes.

His pioneering work has been reviewed not only by his peers, but also the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and has reached the attention of the U.S. President, Mother Teresa, the Empress of Japan, and Pope John Paul 11.

He prides himself on being a patient advocate and actively supports foundations and groups which further the cause of prematurity prevention. He has partici pated in television and radio programs to share his expertise and recruit assistance in the prevention of miscarriages and other birth crises. On ABC's Good Morning, America, co-host Joan Lunden referred to him as the "Doctor of Hope."

He has a long list of publications to his credit and has been published internationally. The popular ity of his book, How to Prevent Miscarriage and Other Crises of Pregnancy, has increased interest in Dr. Sem's methods, and he routinely counsels couples around the world.

Dr. Sem is an associate profes sor at East Tennessee State University's James H. Quillen College of Medicine. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Board of Maternal Fetal Medicine, and a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Links to Dr. Sem in the News

Kingsport Times-News April 8, 1999


Dr. Sem helps couple achieve dream of having baby after decade of heartache

© 2005 Stefan Semchyshyn, M.D.