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A pair deals seven of a kind: educational preparation and poise result in historic delivery – Black female physicians participate in delivery and media coverage of septuplets

Des Moines, Iowa

You could feel the surprise and excitement. Not
just because medical history had been made with the birth of the first
known surviving septuplets, but because of the people who sat down
behind the two desk signs — “Dr. Paula Mahone” and “Dr. Karen Drake.”

Not only were the two medical celebrities women, they were
African-Americans. And they weren’t in New York or Washington or
Boston. They were in Des Moines, Iowa.

At a news conference at Des Moines’ Iowa Methodist Medical Center,
a couple of hundred national and local media representatives sat in a
small auditorium watching doctors and hospital officials seat
themselves at a long table on stage. The media had been told that after
the births, the doctors who had delivered the McCaughey septuplets
would meet with the media to tell what happened in the delivery and how
babies and mother were doing.

The waiting reporters were expecting White males. Instead, they
were introduced to Mahone and Drake, M.D.s, the obstetricians who
handled the Caesarean-section delivery — two African Americans who
made history in Iowa, a state with one of the least diverse populations
in the nation.

Having had little previous exposure to cameras, cameramen, sound
experts, microphones, booms, lights, and reporters, the two doctors who
sub-specialize in high-risk obstetric cases answered questions with the
eloquence of television-anchor persons. And they did it with humor and
grace, and a lack of pretention rare among physicians.

So who are Mahone and Drake, and how did they get to Iowa?

First, they’re best friends and partners in a booming medical
practice. Additionally, they happen to be the among the most respected
physicians in their community — and now, perhaps, in the nation.

Mahone, thirty-nine, grew up the oldest of three children in
Youngstown, Ohio. She went to medical school at the Medical College of
Ohio in Toledo. She later trained at Emory University in Atlanta and
the University of Rochester in New York. She was recruited to Des
Moines in 1993.

Two years later. Mahone helped recruit Drake to Iowa Methodist.
Drake, forty, had received her medical degree at the University of
Illinois-Chicago. Afterward, Drake trained at Albert Einstein College
of Medicine and other hospitals in the Bronx, New York.

Dr. Irwin Merkatz, professor and department chairman at Albert
Einstein, remembers Drake as a dedicated, hard-working doctor, well
liked by col

Dr. Jim Woods, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the
University of Rochester, said he remembered how self-confident Mahone
had been ,a self-confidence which, he said, Mahone had probably relayed
to the family of Bobbi McCaughey, the septuplets’ mother.

Mahone, however, has said it was McCaughey’s confidence and faith
that made her believe the highly unlikely goal of successfully
delivering all seven babies could be achieved.

Mahone, like the McCaugheys, is an active Baptist, but she said she
developed a spiritual bond with her patient that “was much deeper than
church affiliation.” And seeing McCaughey “week after week defying the
odds” during her pregnancy, said Mahone, “it was easy to get behind her
and think, `Maybe this is going to happen.'”

During the delivery of the septuplets, Mahone, assisted by Drake,
had made the huge, vertical incision in the Carlisle, Iowa, mother. She
cut through the abdomen, then the uterus, and calmly lifted out one
baby after another, right down to McCaughey’s pelvis, where the baby
nicknamed “Hercules” appeared to be holding up his six brothers and
sisters. The infants greeted the delivery team, and father Kenny
McCaughey, at the rate of about one a minute.

“This one’s Natalie,” Kenny McCaughey pronounced as the two-pound, ten-ounce infant was removed through the incision.

“God is great,” said Drake. She would repeat those words of praise after the birth of each child.

The babies ranged in weight from 2 pounds, 5 ounces to 3 pounds, 4
ounces, all in the appropriate range for 30 weeks of pregnancy. And a
little more than a week after their births, all of them were doing
well, off ventilator support, and receiving tube feedings.

But if few people who work with and know Mahone and Drake were
surprised they were able to help McCaughey bring the babies to term and
pull off this spectacular delivery, many were shocked with the ease
with which the two have accommodated the hungry and sometimes demanding
media. And no one was more surprised, or delighted, than members of the
media themselves.

Said Michelle Parker, a Black reporter for television station KCCI in Des Moines: “I was proud.”

Lovell Beaulieu, an African-American an editorial writer for The
Des Moines Register, wrote: “The images we get of African-American
women are often stereotypical. We see hip. We see anger. We see
dependency. We see everything from the gorgeous models to the
gangsta-like wannabes. We see the Women’s NBA parading their stars —
most of them black — before cameras as though they’re braced to rip
out somebody’s lungs. We see brawn, but rarely do we see brilliance.

“Here are two people,” he continued, “whom I will forever use as
examples to my Black friends around the country — in both the media
and other professions — who awkwardly ask time after time, `Are there
Black people in Iowa?”‘

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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