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HCA Florida Fort Walton Destin Hospital celebrates Dr. Michael Hennessey delivering 6,000 babies

Dr. Michael Hennessey, a beloved OBGYN in Fort Walton Beach, has delivered over 6,000 babies in his 22-year career. His collaboration with Diana Health brings a revolutionary, holistic approach to women's healthcare in the community.
Dr. Michael Hennessey's passion for women's health leads to groundbreaking collaboration with Diana Health in Fort Walton Beach

For the past 22 years, Dr. Michael Hennessey has been a pillar of women’s healthcare in the local community and at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital.

  • His unwavering dedication to his patients and his passion for obstetrics and gynecology have earned him a reputation as a skilled, compassionate provider who goes above and beyond for the women in his care.

The path to becoming an OBGYN

Dr. Hennessey’s journey to becoming an OBGYN was not a straight path. He began his career as an electrician, working his way up to become a journeyman and eventually a contractor. It wasn’t until after he had married his wife and put her through school in clinical dietetics that he began to consider a different path for himself.

  • “I went to the University of Oklahoma,” he recalls. “I enrolled in the physics program. I got accepted to research my second semester. Started working with solid state lasers, clinical lasers, liquid dye lasers, basically anything lasers, but my area was solid state mainly.”

It was through this work with lasers that Dr. Hennessey first became interested in medicine. He got to work with people at the medical school at the University of Oklahoma on laser applications, including a catheter to blow up kidney stones. This experience sparked a passion that would lead him to pursue a career in medicine.

After completing his prerequisites and being accepted to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Dr. Hennessey initially planned to focus on cardiovascular work. However, it was during his OB rotation that he discovered his true calling.

  • “I delivered a baby at 2am,” he remembers. “My resident wasn’t there, my attending wasn’t there. It was just this couple and the whole family dynamic going on with pictures, and it was just a unique experience. I’d never experienced anything like that and I became addicted.”

Delivering 6,000 babies

Following his residency at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Pensacola, Dr. Hennessey made his way to Fort Walton Beach in 2002. He quickly established himself as a go-to provider for women’s healthcare, delivering an astonishing 6,000 babies and caring for countless patients over the years. 

  • “I’m around 6,000 including my residency,” Dr. Hennessey notes. “I remember one shift when I was a resident in my second year where I delivered 12 babies in 24 hours. It was insane.”

This level of experience and expertise has made Dr. Hennessey a trusted figure in the lives of many families across Northwest Florida, with multiple generations of women relying on his care.

However, Dr. Hennessey had a vision for doing something different with women’s healthcare. In 2017, he hired midwife Sydney Howk, who shared his passion for a more hands-on, holistic approach to obstetrics care. 

“I wanted to do something different,” he explains. “Instead of me laboring women and operating down in the O.R. and coming in right when they’re delivering, to then running back to the clinic or down to the O.R. It was satisfying and I thought there’s a better way to do this.”

Tragically, Sydney passed away from a terminal illness in 2021 after working with Dr. Hennessey for two years at the same time he was faced with his own health challenges. But her passion and dedication left a lasting impact on Dr. Hennessey and his vision for the future of women’s healthcare.

  • “My dream really couldn’t be fulfilled because there was just no way to make it happen then, but I couldn’t turn my back on her passion,” he said. “I wanted to bring midwifery in where it would give the women more of the hands-on approach from another provider and give me a break where I didn’t feel like I was shortchanging anybody running around.”

The vision becomes a reality

That vision has now become a reality thanks to Diana Health and HCA Florida Fort-Walton Destin Hospital. As the medical director for Diana Health in Fort Walton Beach, he is helping to bring a new model of care to the area – one that combines the medical expertise of OBGYNs with the patient-centered, holistic approach of midwifery.

Julia Del Valle, a certified nurse midwife with Diana Health, had been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to work with Dr. Hennessey since she first moved to the area. 

“I had been wanting to work with him since I moved here,” she says. “I was hearing great things about Dr. Hennessey even before I started working here in this area and even the couple times that I had conversations with him prior to even working with Diana Health, I knew that he would be an amazing doctor to work for as a midwife. That he would support me in my professional goals, that he would support me in how I aim to provide patient care.”

The collaboration between Diana Health and HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital has been instrumental in bringing this groundbreaking model of care to the community. Charla Hawkins, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at the hospital, notes that the transition has been seamless, thanks in large part to Dr. Hennessey’s leadership and the enthusiasm of the hospital staff.

  • “Oh my job was easy,” she laughs. “He was the perfect transition piece to be their medical director and on-board this new service, which has been wonderful for us and having him at the helm of it. Plus, having midwives before, my staff were super receptive to it, and looking forward to having this new model. It’s been an easy process.”

For patients, the new model of care offered by Diana Health and HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital represents a significant shift from traditional obstetrics practices. The focus is on creating a more home-like, comfortable environment for women during labor and delivery, with a wide range of options for pain management and positioning.

“We offer so many different things now that are not your traditional idea of what coming in to have the baby looks like,” Hawkins explains. “We offer, of course, traditional pain management options, but we have positioning aids, we have peanut balls, birthing balls, we have other devices for positioning in the bed, in the floor to really move during labor to help that process along. We offer aromatherapy, music, and lighting –  and soon-to-come nitrous oxide for labor management as well.”

The impact he has had and legacy he will leave behind

The response from patients has been overwhelmingly positive. “They know the midwives by name and tell us how wonderful they’ve been to stay with them, from minute-one through the delivery and postpartum process, and even postpartum visits in the office afterwards,” Hawkins notes. “Just a different feel, more of a care-like family feel.”

For Dr. Hennessey, seeing his vision become a reality has been immensely gratifying but also emotional, while acknowledging just how lucky he has been.

  • “This collaborative care model is what I wanted to do years ago with Sydney, and the opportunity just landed in my lap…just like that first baby did so many years ago,” he said. “It’s everything that I’d hoped it would be.”

As he reflects on his career and the legacy he has built in the Fort Walton Beach community, Dr. Hennessey remains as passionate as ever about providing the best possible care for his patients. He acknowledges the unwavering support of his wife and family, who have been a crucial part of his journey and success.

“I have a wife that puts up with it,” he says with a smile. “No, really, that was a big deal.”

Dr. Hennessey’s wife has been by his side throughout his career, supporting him as he worked tirelessly to care for his patients. She even stepped in to help when he first started his own practice, working as his nurse while he found his footing.

With Diana Health by his side now and a talented team of midwives and hospital staff supporting him, Dr. Hennessey is poised to continue making a difference in the lives of women for years to come. His family remains a constant source of inspiration and motivation as he serves the community he loves.

  • “It gives me pride,” he says of his impact on the community. “It means a lot of pride to me to see my patients when I’m with my family. We all just are a part of each other’s existence.”

6 Responses

  1. Dr. H is the best. My daughter was one of the 6,000 that he and Sydney delivered. Rest well sweet Sydney, you are missed!

  2. Dr. Mike Hennessey is one of the greatest blessings of my life. His compassion carried on far beyond the women, children, and families he’s served; it carried on in his colleagues. My late-wife, Sydney, was able to live out her calling, her ministry, for just over two years because Dr. Hennessey had the compassion to take a chance on her as a Certified Nurse Midwife. He was not only a teacher, mentor, and colleague to Sydney, he very quickly became one of her best friends and biggest fans. Thereby, he was one of the greatest blessings of her life. We love you, Mike. Congratulations!!!

  3. Dr. Hennessey is the real deal. I truly believe that what he did the day my daughter was born saved her life. His bedside manner saved me from losing my mind that day, as well. I am forever grateful to him and so glad to have had him by my side that day and as my doctor for over a decade!

  4. I’m have the uniques honor and pleasure of having Dr. Michael Hennessey in my life for the past 22 years as my very good friend, my medical colleague and as my Obstetrician who provided me and my baby girl with the best care possible. And I wasn’t the easiest of patients. In fact, once my pregnancy reached 34 weeks, I took it upon myself to be “proactive “ and made sure Dr. H knew I was still pregnant everyday. I called him or texted him. I called his office. I called labor and delivery. As a staff pediatrician at FWBMC, I could do that. And for all those calls and texts Dr. H and his staff played along until my daughter was born at 38 weeks, healthy, strong, beautiful and well fed. We had complications…but I didn’t worry as much as I could have because I knew the very best of the best was taking care of me and my girl. Michael, that baby girl graduated the May. You held her first. I love that you did and I wouldn’t change one thing about it. Cheers!

  5. Dr H is by far the best doctor I’ve ever had. It has been a blessing to be his patient for the last 15 years, and having 2 babies under his care. My youngest I truly believe is only here today due to his office advocating for me and getting me on progesterone 6 weeks into my pregnancy after a loss 11 months prior. We had a rough pregnancy with her and he was there every step of the way with us thru every shed tear and every sigh of relief. I will forever be grateful to have him as my Dr ☺️☺️☺️

  6. Dr. Hennessey delivered my daughter after a long labor. I’ve been with him since 2007, even seeing him when I moved away for a year. He’s the only one I wanted to deliver my daughter. I love my entire birth story because of him and the team of nurses there. My favorite picture is the one of him handing my daughter to me. I have all my faith in him and sing his praises all the time.

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