Helping the littlest ones at life

Dr. Linda Zak, neonatologist at Trinity Health, is there when a baby or a mom needs her, day or night, rain or shine, holiday or not.

For almost three years, Zak has been a part of the Minot community. She grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, and had been living in Florida for 20 years before coming to Minot. Zak missed the four seasons and described herself as a small town girl, she said, and received a postcard from a recruiter from Trinity in Minot, so she decided to take the job as a neonatologist.

“I was shocked at how flat it is here,” Zak remarked. “Compared to farmland in Iowa, North Dakota is flat.” It has been a great fit for Zak at Trinity, however, and she said Dr. Thomas Carver has been wonderful to work with.

Zak and Carver work in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but they will also go to a delivery when a baby will be premature and then will stabilize the baby before he or she goes into the NICU. Being a neonatologist also involves visiting with families before there will be a problem, if there will be a problem, she added.

“The majority of what we do is take care of babies in the NICU, educate the parent on what to expect in the future and at home and get the parent in touch with resources if the baby has special needs.”

Each morning, Zak said she makes rounds to see each baby born while she was on call. Since she and Carver are the only two neonatologists, Zak is on call a lot of times, usually every other day.

“I come back for deliveries all of the time,” she added. It’s kind of like being a fireman, Zak explained, because she always has to be ready. Because she’s on call every other night, she said, she doesn’t go out to eat, go to movies or take any pseudoephedrine.

When she was a medical student, Zak explained, they toured the hospital and were brought into the NICU.

“I felt transported to another planet because I had no idea they could support someone so small,” she remarked. Zak said she knew she would go into pediatrics, but she was so impressed with the doctor she was following and his kind treatment of a pregnant homeless teenager who wasn’t a patient of his but spent a lot of time with anyway that Zak said she decided to go into neonatology instead. The doctor changed the young girl’s life in such a way that it inspired Zak to specialize in neonatology.

Zak said that in her line of work, babies are going to die every day and if you can take care of a family during that time, that’s important. Her favorite part of her job, though, is delivering babies. “It’s amazing what God can do,” she added.

On the other hand, deaths are the difficult part of neonatology. No one can ever prepare for that, Zak said, and even if the parents know there’s a problem in utero, it’s the loss of a dream. “I don’t take babies for granted.”

The wonderful atmosphere at Trinity Hospital and in her office is what keeps Zak coming back to work each day. “I’ve worked in a lot of level three nurseries, but I have never worked at a place where the staff helps each other,” she said. “I attribute a lot of that to Dr. Carver because he’s very good at what he does.” Zak said half of what she and Carver do involves taking care of babies and the other half involves taking care of parents.

In addition to spending a majority of the time at the hospital, Zak also travels to Russia to do mission work and has gone on several expeditions. She has been interested in missionary work for most of her life, she said. While in medical school at Loyola University in Chicago, Zak said the school had a medical school in St. Lucia and did a mission trip there two times, then when she was living in Florida, there was a clinic in Tallahassee that did mission work in Haiti and went there several times as well.

Currently, Zak works with Agape Unlimited, a Christian medical organization that provides medicines, medical consultations and assistance to those who have little or no access to limited care. Agape Unlimited focuses on the most remote and isolated groups in the Arctic and Siberia, and on the poor and overlooked in rural and urban areas. Zak said she has taken the Trans Siberian Railroad and been helicoptered in to places in Russia. Most expeditions are for two weeks and they bring a suitcase full of reading glasses for people who need them in the villages, she explained. A lot of what Zak does is education, though, since she doesn’t have a Russian medical license. Agape Unlimited has four people trained to make prescription glasses, Zak noted.

For Zak, it’s not a matter of if she’ll go on another mission trip to Russia, but when. “I’m hooked. I’ll probably never do mission work anywhere else,” she said. “There is such a great need in Russia.”

In the meantime, however, Zak will continue to help in the delivery room and take care of the littlest lives in the NICU. Her office is located at Trinity Health Center-West and can be reached at 857-3133.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to