Knudsen Delivers 14,000 Plus Babies at SWMC
by Nancy Kletecka
Having the ability to touch someone's life in a positive way is a great experience for those who can have that claim to fame, but, what about hundreds or even thousands of lives? One local physician can say he has done just that – literally.
Dr. Dennis Knudsen hit a milestone in his career by delivering baby number 14,000 at Southwest Medical Center.
Knudsen's 14,000th delivery was August 29, 2011 when Ally Nicole Kline made her appearance. Ally is the daughter of former Southwest Medical Center employee Katie Kline and her husband, Michael, of Liberal. Her big brother, Brady, was also delivered by Knudsen.
His career started out in the United States Army where he served from 1969 until 1986, with actual duty time beginning in 1976 when he completed medical school at the University of Iowa. He left the military behind in 1983. While in the service, he was stationed at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas and Ft. Riley in Kansas. He was in the reserves during the Vietnam War, staying state-side.
His first connection to Liberal came in 1982.
"At Ft. Riley, we were fortunate because we didn't do abortions," Knudsen explained. "We would give women information and they would go to Wichita. A nurse from that clinic came by one day and asked where I was going to go when I got out. I told her I didn't know, but I wasn't going to stay in the Army."
The nurse told Knudsen she knew of a guy – Dr. Norvan Harris.
"She said he really needs help in Liberal, Kansas," Knudsen said with a smile. "She said he is a great guy who plans to retire in the next 10 years. I stayed one night in Liberal in June of 1982 and thought at the time it was enough for a life time. Why would I want to go to Liberal, Kansas? The woman came back six months later and said I really needed to call him (Dr. Harris)."
His first visit to Kansas was to cover Harris' practice while he was away.
"One day (after leaving Liberal) I got a phone call," Knudsen said. "They wanted to know if I was going to come back. While I was there I did a cesarean section birth with the incision going across rather than up and down as they had been doing."
Harris made an immediate impression on Knudsen.
"Dr. Harris was one of those people you just like when you first meet them," Knudsen said. "He told me he would take a week off and I could come and cover for him while he was gone to see if I would like it here or not. He said I could stay in his house. He had people lined up to take me to dinner like Dr. Jim Parsons, a local eye doctor at the time, and some other friends. The hospital administrator, Bill Griffin, also had me over to his home."
Knudsen said the reception he received was overwhelming.
"Everyone was so welcoming, it got to me and I forgot what it was like at the edge of town," Knudsen said with a slight chuckle. "My wife, Janelle and our children came out for a visit in July and again Dr. Harris had our visit all planned out to where we didn't feel we were in a foreign place."
When it came time to talk business – all it took was a handshake.
"When Dr. Harris and I first talked about it, I asked if he thought we needed a lawyer – he said, 'I don't unless you do.' He said we will make it work and that he wanted it to work," Knudsen said. "So, we shook hands."
Knudsen still practices in the building on 15th Street that Harris built, a location he has been in since 1983, although he has had other opportunities over the years.
"I almost signed with Council Bluffs, Iowa," he said. "And, in 1985, a physician I completed my residency with called and asked if I liked it here."
The physician who had moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado told Knudsen he enjoyed a view of the mountains every morning.
"I told him it is the people and the practice you have that are important," Knudsen said. "I still get to see Pikes Peak, but it means more to me when I do because I don't see it every day."
The physician told Knudsen if he would come there, they would offer him a "heck of a deal".
"At that time my kids were in pre-school and everything was going well," Knudsen said. "If I had gone there I would have had to fight traffic every day."
It would not turn out so well for his fellow physician either. Ten years later he left the mountains.
"He told me he didn't want to deal with the politics there any more and that the smartest thing I ever did was turn them down," Knudsen said. "A few years later another friend tried to get me to move to Arlington, but a few years later his practice shut down."
There is something to the philosophy of "there is no place like home".
"Here I have the opportunity to touch a lot of lives," Knudsen said. "This is my home. My home phone number has been listed since the beginning. Some people think I shouldn't, but if I'm going to do what I do – I want people to be able to get a hold of me. Believe it or not, I have been very fortunate that the community has not abused that. They have gone through the hospital to have me paged."
There have been many cases over the years he remembers well.
"It's amazing how much you get to see in small town America," Knudsen said. "One Saturday, I received a call from an area physician. He said they had a baby that was deceased and he needed assistance in removing it. When the mother arrived here we weren't able to hear a heartbeat. We took her in the operating room and when it was delivered, it was black and blue - but it was alive. It survived."
Another case involved a woman who everyone thought was having twins.
"The first baby was delivered but the second one was not descending like it should," Knudsen said. "By the time we were done – it wasn't twins after all. There was another baby in there. She had triplets."
Knudsen has delivered three sets of triplets at SWMC.
"They all got to stay here," he said. "We didn't have to send any of them on to other hospitals for care."
There have been cases where he was delivering a baby and the mother or the father, or both parents, were also delivered by him.
In 1991, a "baby wall" was started at his 15th Street office. He laughs when asked how many babies are featured there saying he doesn't know, but that he does know many of the photos have had to be made smaller to make room for new ones.
Over the years Knudsen has witnessed many changes - some he has been instrumental in making.
"The first thing I did when I came here was to get rid of shaving and enemas for OB patients and the next was moving deliveries from a delivery room to the patient's room to involve the family more. We used to keep patients for three to five days for a C-section and now they are home in 24 to 48 hours."
The delivery process at SWMC is like a well-oiled machine and for good reason, according to Knudsen.
"I have had the good fortune to have a staff that is second to none. I can't say enough good things about them," Knudsen said. "They are what makes this unit function as well as it does. For the most part employees tend to hang around this unit. The operating room staff - I can't say enough good things about them either. I get asked how we can do what we do here. The people here make it happen. Most of the time we could do a procedure without even speaking to one another – they really are that good. Many visiting physicians have been envious of our staff. We work as a team. We have good outcomes and that takes way more than just me - it takes a team. The employees have taken ownership here."
The hospital staff returns the sentiment.
"Dr. Knudsen is someone who is good for the hospital overall," said OB Nurse Manager Robin Allaman. "He takes into consideration not only what is good for him, but what is good for the hospital, the staff and the patient."
Knudsen is not by any means "your ordinary" OB physician.
"Normally physicians in the bigger hospitals deliver between 10-15 babies per month," Allaman said. "Dr. Knudsen delivers 45 to 70 babies per month. As a general rule he is happier when he is busy than when it is quiet."
OB Nurse Claudia Loya summed it up with one word.
"He (Dr. Knudsen) is awesome," she said.
And to think it all began with a simple handshake.