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A doctor’s journey from Venezuela to Montana’s Flathead Valley

By Juan Martinez-Poyer, MD, maternal-fetal specialist, Montana Perinatal Center

Kalispell Regional Healthcare welcomed Juan Martinez-Poyer, MD, to the Montana Perinatal Center team in spring 2017. He is a highly trained maternal-fetal specialist with a diverse background.

A maternal-fetal specialist, also called a perinatologist, is a physician who has completed residency training in the areas of obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), with additional years of education and training dealing with a variety of unforeseen pregnancy complications and dilemmas. It could be said that maternal-fetal specialists care for two patients (and sometimes more) in one: a mother with a pregnancy complicated by conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or preterm labor and/or a fetus affected by congenital anomalies, anemia, infections or other disorders.

Throughout his career, Dr. Martinez-Poyer has focused much of his training on ultrasound and fetal therapy. Prior to joining Debra Guinn, MD, at Montana Perinatal Center, he spent four years at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), where he performed a multitude of in-utero fetal procedures for moms and babies who came to him for help from around the world. The CHOP Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment is globally renowned for achievements and advances in the field of fetal surgery. Dr. Martinez-Poyer functioned as a key member of the multidisciplinary team of physicians involved with in-utero open fetal surgeries, such as repair of spina bifida and removal of congenital tumors. He brings this expertise to the Flathead Valley.

Dr. Martinez-Poyer discovered his joy of medicine related to obstetrics and gynecology from his father, who was a rural physician in Venezuela. As a 4-year-old boy in Quiriquire, a small town about 300 miles east of Caracas, he can remember hearing his father coach women in labor as they were guided to breathe and push by his father’s count. He can even recall his anxiety as he heard the shouts of future mothers-to-be as his father delivered babies in his medical office attached to the family’s house. Young Dr. Martinez-Poyer spent endless hours gazing at the medical samples and displays in the small maternity ward located near his childhood home. His interest in this field was stirred at an early age due to these indelible memories, which undoubtedly fueled his career path as a maternal-fetal specialist.

Dr. Martinez-Poyer attended medical school at Central University of Venezuela. During his obstetrics rotation at the Maternidad Concepcion Palacios (one of the busiest maternity wards in the

world at that time), he realized that OB/GYN medicine would be his specialty of choice. After medical school, he worked as a primary care physician in the underserved slums of Caracas. There, he met a well-known obstetrician who took him under his wing and trained him in the newly developed field of obstetric ultrasound. Another crucial influence was his uncle, a pediatrician and immunologist, subspecialty trained in the United States, who encouraged him to study abroad.

In 1988, Dr. Martinez-Poyer made a pivotal move to the United States to study OB/GYN medicine. He steadied himself for the unease and challenge of being a foreign graduate student with limited English language skills as he ventured into this competitive specialty. However, hard work does pay off, and Dr. Martinez-Poyer was accepted into the OB/GYN residency program and maternal-fetal medicine fellowship at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. These were the most difficult, but nevertheless rewarding, years of his career. While at Wayne State he received awards for excellence in teaching and academic performance.

Following his fellowship, Dr. Martinez-Poyer went to Three Rivers Area Hospital to work in an underserved area of Michigan, where he functioned as chief of obstetrics and gynecology. Thereafter, Dr. Martinez-Poyer moved west to join a fast-paced maternal-fetal medicine practice in Portland, Oregon. There, he worked alongside Dr. Guinn, a practice partner with whom he developed a close collegial relationship and long-lasting friendship. He left Oregon to pursue additional training at CHOP, while at the same time Dr. Guinn opened Montana Perinatal Center in Kalispell, Montana. When Dr. Guinn suggested that Dr. Martinez-Poyer join her practice in northwest Montana, he was thrilled to oblige.

Dr. Martinez-Poyer enjoys outdoor family adventures with his young son and beloved wife and expects to call Big Sky Country his home for many, many years.

Learn more about Dr. Martinez-Poyer and the services provided by the Montana Perinatal Center at krh.org/montanaperinatalcenter.

First published in Montana Woman magazine, December 2017