16:45 PM

Children's Mercy Welcomes New Fetal Health Director

Dr. Laura Vricella takes reins of Fetal Health Center


Laura K.P. Vricella, MD, FACOG, has arrived at Children’s Mercy to guide the next phase in the development of the Elizabeth J. Ferrell Fetal Health Center (FHC). 

Dr. Vricella, Director-Fetal Health Center and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Chair, assumed her new role in late January, and she describes her first impressions of CM as “fantastic.” 

“This is such a special place,” she said. “The whole reason I wanted to come here is because Children’s Mercy has a really special culture. It’s mission-driven, very much about the patients, and everyone has a lot of pride in that. 

“There’s nothing like coming to work every day and it not feeling like work, because you’re clear on your purpose. That’s something that really touched me from the beginning and something I want to be a part of and help to lead the next phase.” 

Dr. Vricella comes to CM from the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute. Although she lived and worked on the other side of Missouri, she was familiar with CM and the FHC. 

“Children’s Mercy has a reputation in pediatrics that goes well beyond the boundaries of the city,” she said. “It’s a highly respected as a pediatric center of excellence.” 


One of Dr. Vricella’s first priorities is to learn the operations of the FHC by engaging the team. 

“I think the most important thing in starting a position where the goals are great and the expectations are high is making sure I understand where everyone has been and the experiences of everyone who has been working very hard to make this program what it is today,” she said. “So, I’ll be doing a lot of listening. 

“I love fetal care. It is my clinical passion,” she added. “I envision myself being very hands-on in the Fetal Health Center, to understand its functioning, so I can be the most supportive leader possible. You have to understand the way the center works from the inside out in order to lead it effectively.” 

Attraction to medicine 

When asked what led her to a career in medicine, Dr. Vricella said, “I have always wanted to feel like every day I was doing something that has a positive, significant impact on people’s lives. That’s what initially drew me into medicine and what ultimately led me into women’s health.” 

Before Dr. Vricella embarked on her medical career, she spent a year in Senegal, Africa, working with pregnant women. 

“I saw the great needs that people had for good health care and how much women’s health directly pertained to their economic and social wellbeing,” she said. “It was very impactful for me. Reproductive health is so important on the rest of their lives. That is what ultimately pushed me to pursue medicine, because I wanted tangible skills to improve people’s lives.” 



The desire to help has carried through to this point in Dr. Vricella’s professional journey. 

“Those of us who get into the field want to help people on the best and worst days of their lives,” she said. “When someone gets a really serious fetal diagnosis, it’s the worst day of their life; it’s life-altering. For us, getting that right and making sure we give them the information in as clear a way as possible —while also supporting them emotionally and psychologically as they go through this process of understanding and adjusting – there’s nothing like it.” 

“Very rewarding,” agreed Timothy Bennett, MD, FACOG, Dr. Vricella’s predecessor, who came to CM in 2009 after 16 years at KU and helped design the physical and operational aspects of the FHC, which opened in 2010. 

In fact, the aspect of helping families that have been told their baby has significant developmental differences has made his tenure at the FHC a learning experience. 

“I’ve learned so much about the care of patients,” Dr. Bennett said. “One of the things we’re proud of is we say, ‘We’re going to help you.’ It’s as simple as that. What I’ve learned is that we have a lot of babies who have success, but we also have a substantial number who we know are not going to do well. There’s a huge opportunity there for health care.” 

Dr. Bennett added, “There aren’t promises here. I wish there could be. But what we can say is, ‘We’re going to help you every step of the way. There’s a caring you can provide. We don’t take the approach of ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ We take the approach that, ‘Your baby is cared for exactly the way any other baby is cared for. We care the same amount, whether your baby has terrible problems or minor problems.” 


Under Dr. Bennett’s leadership, the FHC has many highlights, including more than 2,000 deliveries; expansion from four to nine inpatient beds; and the Ferrell family’s establishment of the Dr. Timothy Bennett Endowed Chair in Fetal Health Surgery. But as highlights go, Dr. Bennett said it’s hard to beat the first planned delivery in the history of CM – Maddox Hodges on March 10, 2011. 

“I’m very proud of the team in terms of the clinical service we provide,” Dr. Bennett said. “The mission of the center initially was to provide a place where when fetal abnormalities were identified by other physicians, they had a place to refer; where we could help them confirm the diagnosis, assist in the management of the patient, and in many of the cases, provide a place for them to deliver their baby and provide immediate care. That’s exactly what we did, and what we do.” 

What’s next?

Drs. Vricella and Bennett said enhanced research and recruitment of a fetal surgeon are among the goals of the FHC. 

“In order to be a truly multi-dimensional fetal center, you’re going to have to have the interventional piece, a fetal surgeon, if you will, where you can do the more advanced things,” Dr. Bennett said. 

Dr. Vricella said, “It’s clear that being the premiere fetal surgery program in the Midwest is a foundational priority of the institution. This community deserves someone who is not only a skilled surgeon, but whose personality and values are aligned with those of the institution … which is a mentality of teamwork and collaboration, to give the mother and baby the best possible outcome.” 

Advice to the successor 

What advice will Dr. Bennett give to Dr. Vricella as he winds down his time at CM? 

“My advice is, use your own good instincts,” Dr. Bennett said. “I’m very confident in Dr. Vricella. I know her and I know she is extremely qualified and just a good physician. Bring your own ideas forward. Give this a fresh look because we need a fresh look; we don’t want to stay where we are.” 


For her part, Dr. Vricella said she is inheriting an organization with a “rock solid” foundation. 

“I think Dr. Bennett’s legacy is the fact that now, in this region, if you tell a mom that her baby is going to need significant help, she wants to deliver at Children’s Mercy.” 

Dr. Bennett replied, “It was not just me; there were a lot of other people involved. This has been a great opportunity for me, and I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career.”