The state’s first maternal-fetal specialist was named the recipient of the Delaware Medical Association’s most prestigious award.
Dr. Garret H.G. Colmorgen was recruited as Delaware’s first maternal-fetal specialist in 1985 and was tasked with improving Delaware’s infant mortality rate.
“When I came here, Delaware had the third highest mortality rate in the country,” Colmorgen said. “Now, the difference is so insignificant that it’s hard to tell how well we rank.”
The Tilton Award honors a lifetime of medical achievement in the state. Colmorgen, director of Obstetrics and Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Bayhealth
Medical Center. received the award at a dinner at the University & Whist Club’s Tilton Mansion.
Colmorgen was from New Jersey but has now spent two thirds of his life in Delaware.
He earned his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and then completed a fellowship at Pennsylvania Hospital, specializing in maternal fetal medicine.
“It was mostly pressure from my family,” Colmorgen said about why he chose to become a doctor, “I probably would have become an architect.”
Colmorgen said he came to Delaware because it was a medical “wilderness” for him. No one else in the state was doing what he was.
“When I was a resident, all of our high-risk pregnant patients that where beyond our OBGYN had to go outside of the state for care,” said Dr. Richard W. Henderson, who has worked alongside Colmorgen. “That all changed when Dr. Colmorgan arrived.”
Colmorgen attributes the improvement of mortality rates to the quality of care improving on a statewide level, and to his personal philosophy of “patient first.”
The Tilton Award is named for Dr. James Tilton, a revolutionary war surgeon, founder and first president of the Medical Society of Delaware in 1789. Tilton was named the first Army surgeon general of the United States by President James Madison in 1813.
Colmorgen declined to supply photos to run with the announcement of the award, but did approve a photo in which he’s wearing a surgical mask.
“Personally, Dr. Colmorgen is shy and unassuming,” said Hendrickson,. “But professionally, he’s committed to the women and the families he cares for, and he’s committed to the social issues that impact them.”
Hendrickson has worked with Colmorgen on committees looking at some of these social issues.
“We’ve moved into the 20th century,” Colmorgen said. “Part of it is paying attention to your patients. There’s a lot of nuances to it.”
The biggest issue in maternal-fetal care is the disparities in quality of care and societal barriers, Colmorgan said.
“We have a relatively higher population of black woman in the state, but they’re three to four times more likely to suffer from maternal death than white woman are and their babies are 2 to 3 times more likely to die,” Colmorgen said. “They’re not listened to by their doctor. Delivering a baby isn’t a big deal. Overcoming these societal hurdles is.”
Colmorgen noted that the opioid epidemic has had a strong effect on infant mortality.
On the other hand, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had that much of an effect.
“We’ve been busy. We slowed down a bit in the beginning,” Colmorgen said. “I don’t think we have had a pregnant woman die from COVID. I don’t think we have seen woman as sick with COVID as they were with H1N1.” That was the swine flu virus in 2009.
Looking forward, Colmorgen said he obviously wants to see the number of infant mortalities go down.
“There’s a certain number [of deaths] that you cannot prevent,” he said. “What we need to do is provide the best level of care that we can.”
Colmorgen stressed that the state can do that in two ways: Increasing the level of care from the doctors and creating healthier communities.
“In the past it looked like it was just a doctor problem,” Colmorgen said. “But it’s not just a doctor problem. It’s a societal problem as well.”