Lives in progress, a thing to behold: Carol Conger helped thousands of Vail Valley people start life right
VAIL — You might think that after helping with hundreds of births a year for 30 years, Carol Conger might be a little bored with the miracle of life.
You would be wrong.
“Simply listening to a baby’s heartbeat, or seeing a mom and dad hold their baby for the first time, it’s magic. It never gets old,” she said.
Conger, a nurse practitioner and midwife with Mountain Family Health Centers, is calling it a career.
She has two kids, three stepchildren and two grandkids, “The lights of my life,” she said.
She was at the births of her grandchildren, as support for the midwife handling things. That would be a little like writing poetry with Shakespeare in the room.
“One of the most amusing experiences is try to have dinner with her,” said Karen Simon, Mountain Family Health Centers.
People walk over to tell her that she either delivered them, or took care of them during their pregnancy.
Conger and her family were at Coors Field for a Colorado Rockies game and these people kept staring at her. She doesn’t tend to notice this sort of thing, but her family did. Finally, they came over and introduced themselves.
“You changed my life,” the woman said, and introduced her 15- and 18-year-old children, both of whom Conger delivered.
There was the year she and Dr. Kent Petrie were grand marshals of Vail’s July Fourth parade. As they rolled along waving and smiling with the crowd, they recognized several of those faces. They had helped bring many of them into the world.
Almost half the live births at Vail Health Hospital were with Mountain Family Health Centers.
“Carol has two passions: Family and friends, and pregnant women and babies. OK, make that three passions: Add delicious vegetarian food. She is always up for a new recipe or scouting out farmers markets,” said Brenda Harper, who does much of that scouting with her friend Conger.
A very big number
Conger doesn’t keep track how many deliveries she has been part of, so some folks at Conger’s retirement picnic did a little math, beginning with the number of baby humans Conger helped bring into the world, adding the number of people she helped become good parents through things such as Baby and Me classes, and how they passed that on to their sons and daughters. Then they hit the “equals” button on their calculators.
“It was a very big number,” Conger said.
Conger started Baby and Me classes in the valley. They talk about post-partum issues, exhaustion and everything else that comes with having a baby human in your house, someone with ravenous desire at one end and total irresponsibility at the other.
“They talk and laugh and cry. They help people in their darkest moments,” Simon said.
Conger occasionally runs across someone who says they’re “just a stay-at-home mom.”
Conger has a better moniker.
“They’re human development specialists,” she said, smiling. “It has been good for me, also. I have learned as much from patients and their families as they ever did from me.”
Conger is a Colorado native, born in Loveland. She finished nursing school and decided she was too young to start running on life’s spinning wheel, so she joined the Peace Corps and headed for Peru.
“I wanted to experience a different culture,” Conger said.
Some life happened and convinced her to move back to Colorado in 1992.
She was recruited to be the director of delivery at Vail and then finished her nurse practitioner and nurse midwife degrees.
Carol and Kent
“I could not have done it without my mentor Kent, Petrie,” Conger said.
Petrie said he could not have done it without Conger, whom he calls a “friend and colleague since she came to Vail in 1992.”
“My maternity practice was very busy in those days, and I remember always being relieved when Carol was helping care for my patients,” Petrie said. “She was always at the bedside putting the patient’s needs first and was amazing at assisting women (and their partners) through difficult labors. I’m sure she had a great deal to do with keeping our cesarean delivery rates low in those days.”
Conger rose to nurse manager, where she focused on nursing education.
“Our nurses truly thrived under her guidance,” Petrie said.
As part of her own training, Conger got more education, becoming first a family nurse practitioner and then a certified nurse midwife, working side by side with Petrie and caring for their most challenging maternity patients at Mountain Family Health Centers.
“Carol often kids me that old-school doctors like me are not dinosaurs that are becoming extinct, but rather gray wolves, who are an endangered species and whose habitat is shrinking,” Petrie said. “But remember, gray wolf packs are led by a dominant she-wolf. The same holds for nurses like Carol. She has been a valued colleague, a blessing in the lives of her patients and a mentor to so many younger nurses and staff. The nursing species will survive because of Carol’s example of what it really means to be a nurse.”
The valley does not know life without Conger, Simon said.
“The good news is that she has shaped a lot of young nurses who will follow in her footsteps,” she said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.