Dr. Fred Duhart, a family practice practitioner for 38 years and the only St. Louis-area doctor who delivered babies for women wanting to give birth at home, died Saturday, March 14, 2009 after an apparent heart attack. He was 72 and lived in Normandy.

He was the first African American to graduate from the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1970 and began a family practice in north St. Louis County in 1971. He held his Saturday morning office hours at his office on Natural Bridge Road the day he died.

Dr. Duhart never intended to deliver babies, his friends and family say. Soon after opening his practice, he attended a home birth with another doctor. That doctor moved out of state, and the woman passed along Dr. Duhart's name to a friend wanting to deliver at home.

"That woman told somebody else, so he did the next one. And then that woman told somebody else, and the women just kept telling each other," Sue Stephens, his office assistant, told Michele Munz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dr. Duhart attended well over 5,000 births, she said. "He is known throughout the entire birthing community, and there's great respect for him," she said.

For women desiring a home birth, Dr. Duhart was their only legal option in the St. Louis area for a birth attendant. Up until last year, non-nurse midwives who work mainly in home settings were illegal in Missouri. He would travel as far south as Rolla, Mo., as far west as Warrenton and as far north as Louisiana, Mo., to deliver babies.

"He just really believed in people having a choice," said Penny Swank, a Christian Science nurse who worked with Dr. Duhart during some home births. "He was really an advocate. He was pretty much on his own."

He made many sacrifices to provide the service. He would be gone for hours to be with laboring women – one Christmas he attended five births and was gone for over 24 hours, his family recalls.

Dr. Duhart believed home birth was a safe option for healthy, low-risk pregnancies, Stephens explained, and he would transport women to the hospital if complications arose.

"It amazes me how he could do what he did and make himself available to so many people," said Renee Baker, who had three of her babies delivered by Dr. Duhart.

Dr. Duhart married Ada Marie Vick in 1958. She had just finished nursing school, and Dr. Duhart, who grew up in Florida, was attending Northwestern University, where he was the first African-American basketball player and studied to be a teacher, his family said.

He completed studies at the University of Iowa to become a physical therapist and practiced and studied further in Omaha, Neb., before being accepted at Kirksville.

In addition to his wife, among the survivors are three daughters, Kimberly Livingston of Black Jack, Barbara Johnson of Orlando, Fla., and Rachel Williams of St. Louis; four sons, Stephen Duhart, Eric Evans, Kalim Duhart and Scott Lemon, all of St. Louis; and several grandchildren.

– Reprinted from the Post-Dispatch

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