Produced by Dan Ryan for St Mary’s Medical Center

When Glenwood Springs resident Tara Harman and her husband, John, learned that she was pregnant with the couple’s first baby, her initial reaction was disbelief. “We had been trying for so long that it took a while to sink in that this was really happening. It was overwhelming and exciting and scary, but also a great feeling.” 

Tara had already developed a friendship with St. Mary’s obstetrician Dr. Dana Dwyer, and knew she wanted Dana to be her doctor even if it meant traveling to Grand Junction for her obstetric care. “I value Dana’s expertise and friendship in so many ways, and I knew that’s what I wanted, even with the long drive.”

The distance between her home in Glenwood Springs and her physician in Grand Junction became even more critical when Tara was diagnosed with vasa previa, a very rare but severe complication of pregnancy. According to Dr. Dwyer, vasa previa is when the vessels of the placenta are lying over the cervix, unprotected by the umbilical cord or placenta. “This changed Tara’s entire birth plan. She couldn’t deliver her baby vaginally or even go into labor because those vessels could start bleeding which would be catastrophic for both mom and baby. To avoid that risk we elected to deliver little Piper preterm at 34 ½ weeks through C-section.”

Tara says that her expectations for the birthing experience started out as one thing and ended as another. “When we learned of my condition, everything changed,” she says. “But through those changes, the treatment plan was always made very clear. The communication was amazing, and Dana always made us feel comfortable and confident in a very unsettling situation.”

“We want every patient to have a normal and natural birth experience, but that’s not always possible,” says Dr. Dwyer. “Tara and John were great in understanding that she would have to have a C-section, she would have to be in the hospital before giving birth to avoid the risk of her going into labor in Glenwood Springs, and that their baby would be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for some time after delivery. I so admire how they dealt with all of that.” 

Complicating a stressful situation even further, Tara tragically lost her brother right before she was scheduled to give birth. “I knew I had to be emotionally strong for myself and my baby because I didn’t want the additional stress to cause me to go into labor,” she says. “The hospital staff were all aware of the situation and were so kind and patient. And Dr. Dwyer was wonderful through it all. It was so good to be able to talk to her about it and know that I could depend on her to guide me through such a difficult time.”

“I love the relationships I have with my patients,” Dr. Dwyer says. “I felt very privileged to take care of Tara during her pregnancy and I’ll always be here for her.”

“My birth experience with Dana and the St. Mary’s staff was absolutely wonderful,” says Tara. “The doctors, the nurses, the aids . . . everyone has been amazing, and I can’t speak too highly of them all. Even though it’s an hour and a half from home it was worth the drive and I would do it all over again.”