Steadfast Determination to Help Women: Katherine Winkler

May 2, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Julie Cristol

Nominee: Katherine Winkler, Midwife, Southeast Health Center, Philadelphia, PA

Kate Winkler has been a midwife in Philadelphia’s health centers and hospitals for over 20 years. She represents the huge contribution that midwives make to the health of women and babies in the Philadelphia region. She worked at Booth Maternity Center, Temple Hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital and is currently at Greater Philadelphia Health Action’s South Philly clinics.

She provides health care that is infused with a sense of social justice and empowerment at a vulnerable time in women’s lives. She is guided by a strong inner sense of fairness that strengthens the women and families she cares for so tirelessly. She considers each woman’s individual needs and provides culturally sensitive care that honors the woman and her family. She personifies the “Midwifery Model of Care,” which is based on evidence and focused on the individual as part of a larger family and social system.

For the last three years, Kate has served a largely immigrant population in South Philadelphia. She spends countless hours advocating for her clients in large and small ways. She pays for phone cards so that women can try to get medical records from Mexico that would allow them to avoid unwanted repeat cesareans. She faxes information countless times, offers a shoulder to cry on and is always someone you can rely on.  She negotiates with physicians, county assistance case managers, family members, interpreters and managed care employees with great determination and always with a strong sense of what the woman wants and needs. She is quick to discard methodology that is proven useless and always questions new practices until she is really sure they are effective. Even on the craziest, worst day, she does not complain and maintains her wry, quiet sense of humor.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003 and has continued to work through a recurrence and its associated treatment for the last year. Her dedication to her work and her clients defines her. Even this horrible illness has not dimmed her enthusiasm and steadfast determination to help women.

Kate and I graduated from our Midwifery programs in 1988. We both began working in Philadelphia at the same time. Since the early 1990s, we have worked as colleagues in various settings. Currently, we work together at Greater Philadelphia Health Action. She joined my staff in 2005, which was when we began our Centering Pregnancy Program. This program offers group support, childbirth education and prenatal care in a culturally appropriate setting to uninsured immigrant women at the Southeast Health Center. It is a model program and Kate is largely responsible for its continuation and success.

Kate’s professional life has been devoted to helping women become empowered through pregnancy, birth and parenting. She has used her fluency in Spanish to help women talk about safety issues that often go overlooked in immigrant populations. She is nonjudgmental and always an advocate for reproductive freedom. She encourages women to take charge of their lives and gives them some tools to begin the journey. She represents the many, many midwives who care for poor women in the community health centers and hospitals of this country.

Kate is an unsung heroine and working with her has been one of the joys of my professional life. Her steady support and ready listening ear have been essential to me in the frustrating world of American health care.

I have observed many women struggle with cancer. Kate is an inspiration to all of us. She has a tenacious desire to live and has inspired many other women who she has met through her treatment. She continues to be a caretaker and nurturer through her own illness. She is realistic about her prognosis, but still has hope and grace with each roller-coaster ride of diagnosis and treatment. This nomination is inspired by Kate’s work as a midwife, but her attitude towards her illness typifies her inner strength and qualities. She has raised two wonderful, feminist sons who are now well-adjusted young men and is very proud of them. She never seeks recognition for her accomplishments, but she definitely deserves it!

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