DENVER (KDVR) — It was once said, “Medicines cure diseases, but only doctors can cure patients.”
This is the story of one doctor who, at the end of June, is retiring after delivering 10,000 babies — right here in Colorado.
Specializing in high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Rich Porreco boasts a career that’s spanned 50 years and 5,000 babies, a couple thousand twins, 250 sets of triplets, 34 quadruplets and three quintuplets — yes, that’s five babies at one time — for a grand total of 10,000 babies delivered throughout his career.
“But I got a bonus based off the multiples,” Porreco said.
Often, and despite odds, Porreco facilitated healthy high-risk deliveries. Adding in all the offspring of those children, it’s safe to say Porreco has had a monumental impact on the creation of life here in Colorado.
“My parents really had a work ethic about them. I don’t know if it was immigrant….I think that work ethic pretty much settled with us. When I say us — my sister and I,” Porreco said.
Porreco and his sister were the first in their extended family to go to college. He then joined Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in 1981. He founded the private practice Obstetrix Medical Group of Colorado. The practice works closely with the Center for Maternal/Fetal Health, which he also founded, at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.
“He is the gold standard. I think his work ethic and his really outstanding clinical care are two qualities you don’t see much anymore,” said Dr. Jeff Hanson.
Hanson has worked alongside Porreco for more than four decades. He told us stories of Porreco’s long, 12-hour days delivering babies. At the end of the day, Porreco would come back to his office, where his administrative assistant had left Post-it notes on his door detailing all his missed calls.
“It was not unusual halfway through a day to have his door completely covered, but by the end of the day, every note had been taken down,” Hanson said.
Porreco made it a point to converse not only with his families, but with his nurses.
“They are — I use the term ‘the power vortex’ of the medical hierarchy, without question, and you need to learn that early,” Porreco said.
Showing up and making time for his nurses and his families comes as second nature Porreco.
“I think it was, like, three minutes before Robert was delivered, he showed up. And it was like, this is unbelievable,” said father Pete Culley.
After an already complicated pregnancy journey not once, but now twice, mother Kristin Culley was diagnosed with “placenta percreta,” a condition where the placenta invades the uterine wall and can potentially attach to nearby organs, putting the mother’s life at risk.
At 30 weeks, in the middle of the night, she went into labor.
Porreco — not on call — was there.
“So to see him, it just felt like everything would be ok,” mother Kristin Culley said.
Porreco promised he was in this with them, and there he was.
“As vividly as I remember all the successful stories, I also remember the ones that didn’t always turn out so well…and those are important to me, too,” an emotional Porreco said.
After five decades, Porreco said what made him tick early is what keeps him going now.
“Medicine becomes a responsibility. I had a responsibility to these people. I’m not going to shy away from it, whether it’s at 3:30 in the morning,” Porreco said.
In a profession where an error can mean life or death, he offered advice to the next generation of physicians.
“I do think that a dose of humility is a good medicine that all physicians should take at some point, and the earlier, the better,” Porreco said.
Of the 10,000 babies that Porreco has delivered, Aristea Brady is very proud to say that 37 years ago, she was one of them. Porreco was also there to check up on Aristea’s twins the day they were born, as well.
“He truly was our North Star, our moral compass throughout this whole event. Something I’ll never forget. Truly, we are indebted to him for what he’s done, and what he’s done for our family,” father Pete Culley said.
“I think we’re going to — the community’s gunna miss him,” Hanson said.
Presbyterian St. Luke’s wanted us to make it clear that the Center for Maternal/Fetal Health isn’t going anywhere. Porecco said he has zero reservation that the next generation of doctors will keep the practice at the quality they’ve come to know in the past four decades.