Life dedicated to life

Perinatologist assists in birth of sextuplets

Van R. Bohman of the Valley Center Ward, Wichita Kansas Stake, became the focus of the medical world April 6th when his patient gave birth to six healthy babies, a feat rarely accomplished.

"The babies are doing great," Dr. Van R. Bohman said two days later in an interview on CBS' The Early Show. "They're acting like 31-week-old babies — they're just doing marvelously."

His preparations for such a day began years ago when it appeared that his life was etched in gold. Success as a high school football player drew the attention of the elite college football programs. At 6-foot 4-inches, he was a linebacker who had the strength and speed to divide the runner from the ball. He broke three helmets his junior year in high school. Recruiters from Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma and Southern California came knocking with lucrative offers.

Dr. Van R. Bohman looks over the Headrick Sextuplets he delivered on April 6, 2002. Photo by Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle

But all wasn't right with his health and when doctors told him he had Hodgkin's disease, he feared he might suffer the same fatal ending as his older sister who died several years earlier of the same disease.

"Life as an athlete disappeared," he said. "Amazing how fast it can all go away."

Doctors used needles, radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to counter the disease. Surgeons removed his spleen and lymph nodes along the aorta. They beat the cancer, and, in the process, this bone-jarring linebacker developed a sense of empathy and a gentle touch.

At 170 lbs., "football was out," he said. "I decided to dedicate my life to helping kids beat cancer." He entered the University of Nevada Medical School but soon learned that treating children who were suffering from cancer tugged too tightly on the heart strings.

When he completed residency at Baylor College of Medicine in 1990, he had specialized in perinatalogy — working with high-risk pregnancies. "Working with babies was apparently what I was meant to do all along," he said.

Brother Bohman and his wife, Valorie, and their six children moved from Las Vegas to Wichita, Kan., in March 2001. He soon met Sondra Headrick who was pregnant with sextuplets. Such pregnancies are complicated, problematic and dangerous. Delivery for all six is very rare. Only 97 pregnancies of sextuplets have ever been recorded, and of those, only six sets were born intact.

When his patient was about eight weeks into the pregnancy, Brother Bohman detailed the risk involved in such a pregnancy to Mrs. Headrick and, as required by law, explained an option to terminate some of the fetuses to increase the likelihood of survival for the others.

But following the explanation, he encouraged her to let the fetuses live. "The gospel puts a different perspective on the value of life which has influenced his practice of medicine," said Sister Bohman.

Following the discussion, Mrs. Headrick sat in a restaurant with her husband, Eldon, as they listed on a piece of paper their options and prospects. The risks were great and the prospects were dim, but the Headricks were encouraged by the doctor's faith and decided to throw their list in the garbage and let all six fetuses live.

There were serious concerns during the next months. "But at every step and at every juncture, everything fell together. There was always a solution," Brother Bohman said.

"When you make a stand for the principles of the gospel, we are supported," he said. "Being faithful to gospel teachings brings sustaining help.

"Each of the six babies is doing well and may be going home soon."

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