July 18, 2012
In Native American culture there is a premise that Nature thrives on order but it is man who creates the disorder. That thought came to mind last month when I presented yet another malpractice case for review with a panel of colleagues. A patient wanted to be induced at 39 weeks and inevitably had significant complications with a poor birth outcome. In my expert opinion, I suggested that the physician should have waited until the patient was 41 weeks before she attempted an induction and one of my colleagues thought that I was vehemently wrong. “She was full-term and entitled to an induction” he practically shouted in my ear. “That’s not the point,” I countered. There was no reason to do the induction except for physician and maternal convenience. I reminded him that most high-risks specialists will start fetal monitoring and nonstress tests (NSTs) at 40 weeks to document fetal well being and then induce labor at 41 weeks if it has not started spontaneously.
At 39 weeks, the cervix is usually thick which means it has to be softened with medication before Pitocin (the medicine that starts contractions) can be given. Anytime an induction goes beyond 48 hours, there is a strong possibility that it will end in a C-section. At 41 weeks, the cervix is usually soft and if an induction must be started, it has a much greater success rate for a vaginal delivery.
Very few physicians will allow a patient to deliver beyond 42 weeks because the baby gets too big and the placenta becomes old. An “old” placenta, aka “grade 3” means the baby could possibly receive inadequate oxygen and inevitably there will be meconium which is an internal bowel movement that sometimes indicates fetal distress.
According to the Bloomberg News, “Aetna has renegotiated maternity payments with 10 hospitals around the country so far, bringing rates for cesareans and vaginal births closer together.” This will inevitably decrease my colleagues’ checking accounts but please do not look for sympathy from me. The standards of medical care were written for a reason. Performing inductions of labor for the sake of “convenience” is certainly not one of them.
June 18, 2012
A few years ago, a 20-something year old pregnant woman presented to her physician with complaints of a skin bump that was red and painful. She was told it was a spider bit and given antibiotics. The patient ultimately went in labor but required an emergency cesarean which went well without any complications. Four days later she developed skin lesions and 3 months later she expired after a very stormy hospital course. What did she die of? MRSA, which stands for Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus.
Staph Aureus (Staph) is a bacteria that can be found on the skin and doesn’t usually cause problems as long as there are no breaks or cuts in the skin. However, if there are cuts and Staph gains entry into the skin, an infection can develop that if often not serious. However, Staph has a very dangerous form that is resistant to the medications that will normally treat it. The resistant form of Staph can cause havoc if unrecognized which can lead to several complications including death. In fact, 20% of people who have (MRSA) dies from this infection because the diagnosis is made too late. One of the most common complaints patients have when there is a MRSA infection is a bump or red lesion on the skin that is misdiagnosed as a spider bite. How do you avoid the misdiagnosis? By knowing who is at risk and what to look for.
MRSA tends to be found in places where there are many people living close to each other such as nursing homes, but of late, several cases are also associated with
- People who are either in a prison or an athletic facility.
- Athletes who share towels or razors
People who either work in prisons or visit relatives or friends incarcerated should always wash their hands after a visit.
If you are given a diagnosis of a “spider bite,” request that it be cultured, meaning a Q-tip is used to take a sample from the bump. Sometimes people can have the infection without having any symptoms. This is known as being a “carrier.” Again, if you are given the diagnosis of having a spider bite, ask that a culture be obtained from inside of your nose to make certain you don’t have MRSA.
MRSA can be treated appropriately with the right antibiotics. Medicines that are associated with Penicillin such as Amoxicillin and cephaplosporins will not work.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
May 28, 2012
As a young girl growing up in a small Long Island town called Amityville, Memorial Day was a huge holiday filled with parades and barbeques. I would inevitably end up at my friend Diane’s backyard eating a hotdog along with the rest of the kids on our block. It was also a day when we made our annual trip to the cemetery to place American flags on the graves of veterans and flowers on the graves of the deceased. Well, today, in honor of both Memorial Day and Preeclampsia Awareness Week, I’d like to take time to remember all mothers and their babies who died during childbirth, especially from preeclampsia.
What is preeclampsia and why is it so deadly? Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy in which there is high blood pressure; swelling of the ankles, feet, or face; protein in the urine; and abnormal kidney function. This condition requires the delivery of the baby in order to preserve the mother’s life and prevent seizures and strokes. The old fashioned term for preeclampsia was toxemia and it affects 1 out of 12 pregnancies each year. Approximately 76,000 women die annually from this disease and most people know of at least someone that it has affected during pregnancy.
When I think about preeclampsia, a woman name Dawn Fleming comes to mind. Dawn was 31 years old, a member of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta and a popular radio personality in Orlando. Although I did not know her personally, she was from my former hometown of Queens. She was gregarious, a community activist who died unexpectedly from a preeclampsia related stroke. She had recently married and delivered a baby girl 6 days before her untimely birth. Her daughter is now approximately 8 years old and will never know her mother. When I attended Dawn’s wake, I was both angry and sad. I suspected someone had inevitably missed the diagnosis and by the time she was given treatment, it was too late. Such is the case of the vast majority of preeclampsia victims. By the time a diagnosis is made, the damage is already done. In her book, You Have No Idea, celebrity Vanessa Williams and her mother, Helen, discusses preeclampsia as the reason for her paternal grandmother’s death.
In my next blog, I will describe the signs, symptoms and treatment for preeclampsia that is also described in The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy. But in the meantime, I urge all of us to take a few moments to remember all the moms and babies who are no longer with us and pray that a cure for preeclampsia will one day be found.
March 19, 2012
Is it wrong to be born? That question was asked in front of an Oregon jury who responded in a resounding yes with a guilty verdict of 12 to 0 against Legacy Center for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Legacy Lab. The jury awarded nearly 3 million dollars to Ariel and Deborah Levy for the wrongful birth of their daughter, Kalanit who was born with Down syndrome although the prenatal tests said that she was normal. Levy was 34 years old at the time of her pregnancy with Kalanit and requested genetic tests. She had two previous deliveries of healthy boys and thought she had completed childbearing. Her pregnancy with Kalanit was a total surprise and she wanted to make sure the baby was normal. A chorionic villus sampling (CVS) was done at 13 weeks and the results were good. Levy breathed a sigh of relief, but not for long.
Although the CVS result was normal, Levy’s two ultrasounds weren’t. They were suspicious for Down syndrome but her physician assured her that she had a normal baby and did not bother to do an amniocentesis. When Kalanit was born, a hospital worker informed Levy that she appeared to have Down syndrome. One week later, the diagnosis was confirmed. Levy and her husband were devastated. How could this happen? Kalanit has a rare form of Down syndrome called Mosaic Down syndrome meaning some of her cells do not have abnormal chromosomes.
The Levys initiated a lawsuit in 2007 for a wrongful birth. They contend that although they love their daughter, had they known she had Down syndrome, they would have terminated the pregnancy. The trial languished for 10 days. The Levys received death threats. The Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice supporters squared off in predictable fashion and I shake my head in frustration. The ultrasound didn’t lie. An amniocentesis was warranted. The Levys did not make an informed decision regarding the birth of their daughter because they were not given the correct data.
Physicians don’t walk on water. On some regretful occasions, we will make mistakes. If for any reason you’re not comfortable with your physician or the diagnosis given, please get a second opinion; or even a third. And above all, trust your instincts.
Was it wrong for Kalanit Levy to be born? I’ll let you be the judge.
March 5, 2012
Today will be a day of mourning for pregnant women who are uninsured and receiving Medicaid in Houma, Louisiana. Their local hospital closed its maternity and neonatal units because of a $2.9 million dollar budget cut. Over 100 employees will lose their jobs, many whom have held their positions for over 20 years. This closing will have a ripple effect and is an increasing phenomenon that has besieged many hospitals across our nation. Over thirteen hospitals in Philadelphia closed their labor and delivery departments and in my own backyard, South Seminole Hospital in Florida did the same. What’s going on? Hospitals claim they’re losing money and government insured and non-insured pregnant women are feeling the aftermath. These are some very scary times.
The options for Houma’s uninsured pregnant women or women who receive Medicaid are quite limited. A few years ago, they could have gone to Lafayette Hospital in Lafayette; or Earl K. Long in Baton Rouge or Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Sadly, all of those hospitals have closed their labor and delivery department. I know those hospitals well, having worked and lived in Louisiana for almost four years as a community health physician.
Although Houma is a small, close-knit community, its hospital provided hundreds of prenatal visits for pregnant women in nearby parishes. They interacted like family. The nurses at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center are devastated and apprehensive about the future of the pregnant women knowing that most cannot afford to go to private physicians and many have high risk problems. Consequently, many of these patients will be forced to travel over 300 miles on a 5-hour trip to Shreveport, Louisiana to receive prenatal care at its charity hospital.
I strongly encourage the State of Louisiana to brace itself for an increase in infant and perhaps even maternal deaths. Many high risk patients are simply not going to be able to make that 300-mile trek to Shreveport without adverse consequences. Any perceived benefit from that $2.5 million dollar budget cut will quickly dissipate based on the spike of NICU admissions that are sure to come.
The women and their unborn babies deserve better. Shame on the State of Louisiana.
January 16, 2012
There are stories that make you cheer and Samantha Garvey’s is one of them. Her light is just beginning to shine but I’m certain in a few more years its intensity will become much brighter. She entered the world prematurely, raring to begin her human experience. At only 2 pounds and 14 ounces at birth, we might have easily have lost her. In her 17 brief years, she has had her share of adversity. Her mother’s automobile accident caused injuries that left her unemployed for almost 8 months. Her father’s income as a taxi driver was not enough to sustain them. The eviction from their rented home on New Year’s Eve came at the most inopportune time. Her father moved the family into a hotel temporarily but they eventually ended up in a homeless shelter, something that has happened more than once during Samantha’s childhood. Samantha immersed herself in school and for the past 2 years, was involved in a research project in marine biology. Ironically, her research project involved looking at the response of mussels when they are in the midst of adversity. What did Samantha discover? The greater the danger encountered by the mussels, the thicker their shells became. A lesson we can all apply to life.
Samantha submitted her research project to the national Intel science competition and made the competitive semi-finals. She is now one of 300 students nationwide who have a chance of winning the top prize of $100,000. And it gets even better. The county social service department found a home for Samantha’s family at a subsidized rent and a private corporation is donating furniture. Hopefully, she will also hear good news from Brown and Yale Universities where she has submitted her applications for freshman admission.
When Olga and Leo Garvey bought their 2 pound 14 ounce daughter into the world, they gave us a gift. Let Samantha’s resilience and determination be an inspiration to us all, especially to parents of premature babies. Somewhere on the other side of the rainbow, the angels are smiling, and we are too. Congratulations, Samantha. I’m sure we’ll hear about you again in the near future.
December 28, 2011
It’s an obstetrician’s worst nightmare and it continues to happen on a daily basis. The story of Michal Lura Friedman brings tears to my eyes. After 7 years of trying, the 44 year old songwriter finally became pregnant –with twins. Her husband, Jay Snyder, a free-lance voice-over artist, describes the 9 months of Friedman’s pregnancy as pure bliss. However towards the end, her blood pressure became elevated so she was scheduled to have a C. Section the day after Thanksgiving.
Snyder accompanied his wife to the hospital and witnessed the birth of his babies. Then Friedman began to bleed. And bleed. And bleed. At 9:30 p.m., she became yet another U.S. maternal mortality statistic.
At least 2 women die from complications of childbirth in the US daily. Some celebrities such as Christy Turlington Burns have become a Maternal Health Advocate as a result of first-hand experience. She had a near-miss childbirth experience but lived to tell the story. Many women, including Friedman, don’t. The American Congress and College of Obstetrician-Gynecologists (ACOG), will have both Burns and Tonya Lewis Lee, the wife of renowned director, Spike Lee as spokeswomen on the topic of maternal mortality at the 2012 Annual Conference in San Diego. However, we need much more. There are obstetricians who have worked on the front-lines managing high-risk patients for years who can’t get a seat on ACOG’s policy committees and it is frustrating. Here are a few questions that should be asked at the hospital where Friedman expired:
- She had a short stature with a uterus stretched to the max with two babies. Was the possibility of hemorrhage considered?
- When her blood pressure became elevated, was it controlled prior to doing the C. Section knowing the risk of possible HELPP Syndrome that is associated with pre-eclampsia?
- Was there an OB Rapid Response Team?
- Was a Bakri balloon used once the bleeding couldn’t be controlled with uterine massage or meds?
- Was the prospect of a problem anticipated BEFORE it occurred or was there chaos trying to find appropriate meds and equipment as the tragedy unfolded?
Pregnancy is not a benign act contrary to what most people believe. Things can and do happen, most often when the hospital staff is unprepared and ill-equipped to handle an emergency. My heart bleeds for Jay Snyder. He is 41 years old, a new father and now a widow who must take care of two beautiful children, who will never know their mother. With all due respect ACOG, talk is cheap. More action must be taken to stop this.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do…
December 12, 2011
Sometimes Fate has to shout in order to be heard, especially when the voice of reason is ignored. Michelle Duggar was pregnant with her 20th child to the aghast of many including this author. We squirmed in our seats. We moaned. We groaned. We blogged. The combination of Duggar’s 19 children and her advanced maternal age of 45 is enough to make any obstetrician or midwife cry, especially when she becomes pregnant, yet again. Not surprisingly, Duggar experienced a miscarriage with pregnancy number 20. According to media reports, when the Duggars presented for their ultrasound, a fetal heart beat could not be obtained. What occurred in obstetrical vernacular was a missed abortion or an early fetal demise. Based on the Duggars’ press release, his wife probably had no symptoms prior to receiving the ultrasound. The cramping, spotting, abdominal and back pain was probably absent. An early fetal demise without symptoms or missed abortion means the baby stopped growing because there was a condition present that was incompatible with life. Did Duggar’s age increase her chances of having a miscarriage? Absolutely. 93.4% of woman who are over 45 will have a miscarriage. Or put another way, only 6% of pregnant women over age 45 will deliver a baby. 7% of all women Duggar’s age will have an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and 8.2% will have a stillbirth. One out of 19 pregnant women who are age 45 will have a baby with Trisomy 21 or Down’s syndrome. So should we be surprised that Duggar had a miscarriage? No. And no one is gloating over her misfortune. A miscarriage for any family, even those with 19 children is lamentable. However, most pregnant women who have experienced a miscarriage will attempt to conceive again. In the case of Duggar, this would be a profound tragedy. Mrs. Duggar, you have our condolences regarding your miscarriage. Millions of people enjoy coming into your home each week and think you are delightful. However it is out of our profound concern for your well-being that prompts us to implore you. Please don’t push the envelope any further. Please give your uterus a well-deserved rest.
November 14, 2011
OMG, Michelle Duggar is pregnant again. Is she competing with the wife of Feodor Vassilyev? Vassilyev was pregnant 27 times between 1725 and 1765 and gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. 67 children survived infancy making her the woman who had the most documented number of children in the world. Vassilyev had a history of multiple births. What’s Duggar’s excuse?
I’ve written about Duggar before out of genuine concern and received over 2,000 comments on the Basil and Spice website. Many were unkind. People like Duggar because of her affable personality but want to ignore the facts: with each subsequent pregnancy, her life becomes fraught with danger. Her last pregnancy was extremely high-risk, complicated by pre-eclampsia and the emergency premature delivery of her daughter who only weighed 1.3 pounds at birth. It was a very close call. According to Answers.com, the Duggar family gets paid an estimated $25,000 to $75,000 per episode on the reality television show on Channel TLC. So, is it perhaps the show’s ratings that have prompted this 45 year old mother of 19 children to have yet another child? Is it the Baby-Doll syndrome where women have multiple children because they like the baby doll effect of having a newborn? I’m still scratching my head. However, I would be remiss if I did not, as an obstetrician offer some advice (albeit unsolicited) regarding the dangers of extreme parity (aka a great number of pregnancies). It was the same advice I offered almost 2 years ago.
- Mrs. Duggar, you are 45 years old and have what’s known in obstetrics as Advanced Maternal Age. This condition predisposes you to several high-risk conditions including pre-eclampsia, preterm labor and a host of other issues.
- You’ve carried 19 children in your uterus and its muscles are stretched to the max. Post-partum hemorrhage lies high on the list as a future complication and is the most common cause of maternal death in the industrialized world.
- You’ve also had a cesarean section and now have the potential to have a placental abruption (early placenta separation from the uterus) as well as a placenta accreta (the placenta sticks to the uterine incision and is extremely difficult to remove).
The Bible says to go forth and multiply and you’ve followed directions well. Now pat yourself on the back and give your body a well deserved rest. You escaped serious harm because of Divine Intervention and a skilled medical staff. Please, do not push the envelope.
November 7, 2011
A recent article about the shameful infant mortality rate in the U.S. caught my attention. Certainly the statistics quoted are nothing new but still remains alarming. However, the Op Ed by CNN contributor Deborah Klein Walker gave the subject matter a new spin. Walker wrote “This is one of the greatest injustices in our country: that a baby’s chance of having a healthy life is largely dependent on where he or she is born. States and local communities vary widely in what care their leaders choose to provide to women and children.” If Dr. Walker were present, I’d give her a great big hug for her courage to say what no one else dared. A baby can die based on a hospital zip code.
Every pregnant mother needs to take a mini course in hospital politics because they are directly affected. A hospital is no longer a place of healing. It is a business and at times, ruthless. I have witnessed a colleague forced out of business because she said no when a hospital wanted to buy her practice so they withdrew her admitting privileges instead. I recall bitter battles with my former employer because I would not encourage my patients to deliver at a hospital that was notorious for being under staffed, overworked and a haven for medical errors, simply because of a business relationship that my employer had with thatehospital.
I commend our federal government for initiating programs such as Healthy Start and the new home visiting program, but dependence on government assistance alone cannot guarantee a healthy baby. A pregnant mom must do her due diligence. She must investigate the credentials of the provider and hospital where she intends to give birth. What should a pregnant mom do if she lives in a community or state that has a high infant mortality rate? Give birth at a teaching hospital that’s affiliated with a university or medical school. Most of these institutions receive federal and state financial support and are obligated to provide care to patients.
Can a baby die based on the zip code where it’s born? Unfortunately, yes unless the mother is willing to do her homework and take the necessary precautions to avoid that from happening. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.