Bella opened in December 2014 as a non-profit medical practice, founded by Chism and her daughter Abby Sinnett, both of whom are nurse practitioners, with the goal of taking a holistic approach to caring for women in mind, body, and spirit.
The practice is run in full alignment with Church teaching, although it attracts non-Catholics as well, particularly those drawn to the clinic’s natural and scientific approach. Some areas of focus for the clinic include obstetrics, annual exams, gynecology, infertility treatment, menopause care, and abortion pill reversal.
Over the years, the practice has expanded its scope to offer care for men and children as well as for women, with services such as well child check ups, management of chronic illness, and COVID-19 testing.
One of the important facets of Bella’s work is care for pregnant mothers, and Chism said they are already adept at meeting the medical needs of mothers who are carrying babies with Down syndrome.
The new partnership will enable Bella to care for adult patients who have Down syndrome, she said. Bella will help Lejeune learn more about how medicine in the United States works, while the Foundation’s knowledge of how to care for people with Down syndrome, passed on to Bella’s staff through mentorships, will greatly benefit Bella’s medical practice.
“We know that there is an identified need, and we are going to be there to fill it,” she said.
Chism said they expect to begin serving their first patients with Down syndrome on March 21, 2021. March 21 has been marked as World Down Syndrome Day by the United Nations since 2012.
Dr. Lejeune, a devout Catholic, discovered the genetic cause for Down syndrome— an extra copy of chromosome 21— in 1958.
He spent the rest of his life researching treatments and cures for the condition— also known as trisomy 21— advocating strongly against the use of prenatal testing and the abortion of unborn children who were found to have Down syndrome.
Chism commented that before Lejeune’s discovery, people generally thought there was something “missing” from people with Down syndrome, but Lejeune found that there was “nothing missing at all.” Rather, “God chose to write a second sentence in the DNA of Down syndrome people.”
Kieth Mason, executive director of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, told CNA that the foundation chose Bella as their first medical practice partner in the United States because of a shared reverence for the dignity of the human person.
Denver is already home to the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado, as well as the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, a major advocacy organization.
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Currently however, Mason said, there is no freestanding medical center in the United States for people with Down syndrome older than 21. Most specialized clinics— of which there are about a dozen throughout the country— are pediatric. The partnership with Bella will aim to change that, he said.
The Lejeune Foundation operates the largest DNA database in the world, Mason said, and they base their specialized care for people with Down syndrome on many years of research. Research by the foundation is likely to yield positive results not only for people with Down syndrome, but for all people, he noted.
For example, it is very common for people with Down syndrome to get Alzheimers, so the foundation is doing a lot of research into how to lessen the impact of the disease. On the other hand, women with Down syndrome appear to be protected from contracting breast cancer, so research into this area could benefit all humanity, he said.
Mason said he fully expects Bella to attract interest from patients across the country, just as their clinic in Paris attracts patients from across Europe and the world.
Mason's daughter Maria, who has Down syndrome, will be one of the first people to receive specialized medical care at the Denver clinic, he said.
“As we care for people with Down syndrome, they care for us. They minister to our hearts and show us what true joy is,” he commented.