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.
July 2, 2012
A Maryland jury made history by awarding Enso Martinez and Rebecca Fielding $55 million dollars but there are no winners in this tragedy. Enso Martinez Jr. has irreversible brain damage and Johns Hopkins Hospital will spend resources that could be used for research for direct patient care, to defend their care of Fielding.
Home birth in the U.S. has increased by 20% in part, because of Ricki Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born. Women want to have their babies at home despite the admonishment and warnings from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. To all pregnant moms who want to have their babies at home, I get it. I truly do. You want a comfortable intimate environment to have what you deem is a “natural event” without “unnecessary intervention.” You want to be like the celebrities who have had successful home deliveries. But here’s the problem: your home is not equipped to deal with emergencies and they DO occur. Just ask celebrity mom Christine Turlington Burns, who experienced a postpartum hemorrhage and had to be rushed to the hospital in order to save her life. Obstetrics is a specialty of the unexpected. You MUST be prepared for emergencies.
Fielding entered Johns Hopkins Hospital because the baby was “stuck.” The midwife couldn’t deliver the baby because it was either too large or she couldn’t manage a shoulder dystocia. According a blogger, Dr. Amy Tuteur, Midwife Evelyn Muhlhan’s license was suspended by the State of Maryland because of five homebirth disasters including Fielding’s delivery.
An ambulance brought Fielding to a hospital where she allegedly waits for over 2 hours for blood test results. A c. section is delayed. A baby has brain damage. Take home message?
- Know your midwife’s professional record. Does she have malpractice suits? Has she been sanctioned by the state medical board for negligence?
- Meet your midwife’s ob-gyn back-up. The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy discusses this in detail. At the first sign of trouble, Muhlhan should have contacted her ob backup. If she didn’t have one, she was begging for trouble.
- Have a PERSONAL copy of your prenatal chart with you and your back-up hospital or birthing center should have a copy as well. This is standard prenatal procedures. Having a homebirth doesn’t change that. Your prenatal record contains all of the important information including blood type and blood count. No one, I repeat NO ONE, is going to bring you into the operating room without knowing your blood type unless you are hemorrhaging to death. Had Fielding had a copy of her prenatal record, she might not have encountered the delay.
If you’re going to have a homebirth, then please take the necessary precautions. An ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure.
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.
April 11, 2012
My oldest son brought home a cabbage seedling from school to enter in a contest. If his plant grew the largest, he would win a $1,000.00 scholarship. For the first 2 weeks he faithfully nurtured the plant but then his attention span decreased as basketball and track gained more prominence on his radar screen. His father felt sorry for the abandoned plant and sat it on top of soil in a larger pot so that it could receive some sunlight. The larger pot represented a burial ground of a deceased plant that had met its untimely demise due to unintended neglect.
A few weeks passed. We assumed the plant was dead. On a lazy Sunday afternoon a hint of spring was in the air as flowers blossomed. The sun shone brightly and my spouse stepped into the backyard to get some fresh air. A few minutes later, he beckoned my son to come outside in a voiced filled with excitement. The cabbage plant was miraculously resurrected. Although still confined to its original container it had somehow dug its way into the soil of the larger pot and was now firmly attached. It was thriving with large, thick green leaves and had a significant growth spurt. What a teachable moment. Ignoring the confines of its container, the cabbage plant sensed a window of opportunity in the form of fertile soil and literally – dug in. We cut away its first container to allow it to thrive even more.
Pregnant moms, a tree is known by the fruit that it bears. The seed within you has the potential to blossom into infinite possibilities if given the proper nourishment. When the challenges of life attempt to intimidate or discourage you be like the cabbage plant and ignore the external barriers. Deflect negativity. It cannot do you harm if you ignore it. Focus instead, on the potential within.
What can we learn from the cabbage plant? We learn that the will to live is far greater than any external challenge.
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.
February 23, 2012
A lie unchallenged becomes the truth. While I admire GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s decision to raise a special needs child, I certainly wish he would keep his political agendas out of my exam room. Yes, it takes love and courage to raise a child with Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder that’s associated with severe physical and mental challenges. However, this does not make Santorum an expert on prenatal tests and to say anything to the contrary, is both reckless and immoral.
Prenatal tests, especially those that tests for chromosomal abnormalities, are optional. A woman can decline the tests if she chooses to do so and I’ve had patients who have exercised that perogative in the past. But first, let me tell you why these genetic tests are so important. If a woman discovers that she has a baby with Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down’s syndrome, both she and her pediatrician will have time to prepare for possible complications. Many genetic disorders are associated with heart conditions and require immediate surgery after birth. There are instances where the baby is born with a pediatric cardiologist in the delivery room who then whisks the baby away to have a life-saving cardiac procedure. This cannot happen if you don’t have the prenatal test.
In my 25-year career as a physician, I’ve only had 2 confirmed cases of Trisomy 21 and both mothers decided to keep their pregnancies. However, please be aware that there are some genetic disorders that are incompatible with life and the baby expires shortly birth. Most mothers do not want to experience that type of emotional trauma.
Mr. Santorum, please stop using Women’s Health as a stepping stone to gain entrance into the White House. If you can’t campaign for President based on truth and merit, then perhaps you’re not cut out for the job.
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.
November 30, 2011
On a recent Sunday in the bathroom of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a baby boy made his entrance to life. His mother was approximately 28 weeks and delivered prematurely, however both baby and mother were healthy according to the media. Although the details of the delivery are sketchy, anyone involved in obstetrics can predict what occurred.
The mother might have had a previous history of a urinary tract infection, or complained of back pain. Did her ultrasound reveal a short cervix? Or perhaps she had a history of a previous early delivery. If it was her first pregnancy, did she complain of mild abdominal pressure? Premature labor is one of the most common reasons for birth defects and has a price tag of approximately 26 billion dollars per year. The signs and symptoms of preterm labor often go unnoticed or diagnosed because healthcare providers aren’t paying attention. A urine analysis report showing bacteria in the urine will not be addressed. No inquiry will be made as to whether the patient made frequent trips to the bathroom or whether she drank soda. Soda predisposes patients to urinary tract infections because of the carbonation or bubbly component of the drink irritates the bladder. Untreated urinary tract infections can cause premature labor. A complaint of lower abdominal pressure will be attributed it to “round ligament pain” even though the patient is well beyond 20 weeks when it is most likely to occur. A complaint of back pain will be blamed on the changing shape of the uterus rather than sending the patient to the hospital for further evaluation. In essence, some healthcare professionals keep missing the diagnosis or intervening too late.
According to the American College of Obstetrician/Gynecologists (ACOG) pregnant women can travel up to 32 weeks by air provided they don’t have any complications or high risk conditions. The change in altitude can sometimes cause the “water to break” or the placenta to separate too soon. All pregnant women who plan to travel (especially by air) should consult with the OB provider for advice and instructions. For pregnant women who plan to travel, here are some suggestions:
- Obtain a copy of your prenatal record prior to traveling in the event of an emergency
- Find out the name of the nearest Level 3 hospital where you will be staying
- Do not sit for more than 2 hours without standing for a few minutes to stretch your legs to prevent blood clots.
- If you are complaining of back or abdominal pain before traveling, contact your provider immediately
Fortunately the baby born in the airport bathroom appears to be fine. However not all unexpected births have a happy ending. Pregnant moms, if you have to travel, please don’t push the envelope.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
October 24, 2011
Infertility or the inability to have a baby can be devastating and affects approximately 10 percent of the female population. There are many conditions that prevent women from having children including and Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser syndrome (or MKHS). MKHS is a rare disorder that affects a woman’s ability to conceive. At present, for every 10,000 women, only 1 to 2 will be affected. Both Sara Ottoson of Sweden and Melina Arnold of Australia have this condition. MKHS is characterized by the absence of a vagina and part of the cervix. Patients with this condition have normal breast development and functioning ovaries. Genetically, they also have female or double X-chromosomes and look like normal women. The problem comes to light during adolescence when a teen fails to have a period. The condition is also known as Vaginal Agenesis because they are born without a true vagina, a problem that can be corrected through surgical and non-surgical procedures. Unfortunately, they are unable to have children and usually adopt or use a surrogate mother. Those options, however, might soon change.
Both Ottoson and Arnold plan to have biological children using those mothers’ transplanted wombs next year. The wombs that these women resided in prior to their birth will potentially be used to nurture their unborn babies. Ottoson and Arnold will be making history in the same manner as Louise Brown did in 1978 when she became the first successful “test tube” or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) baby. Has a womb transplant been attempted before? Yes, about 10 years ago in Saudi Arabia but it was an unsuccessful procedure. After four months, the 25-year-old patient’s body rejected the transplanted uterus of a 46-year old woman. Ottoson will receive the uterus of her 56 year old mother but will not be able to conceive through IVF until she has waited a full year to make certain that her body will not reject the donated organ.
If womb transplant becomes successful, it will also be a powder keg regarding ethical and legal issues. It would also provide an option to women who are cancer survivors and desire fertility. All eyes will be on Ottoson and Arnold next year. It will be history in the making.
October 12, 2011
The fact that Amber Miller did not fall or faint or develop complications while running in the Chicago Marathon is nothing short of a miracle. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What on earth was her physician thinking when she was given the green light to half-run half-walk a 26.2 mile marathon? Miller was not your usual runner; she was approximately 39 weeks pregnant.
Although pregnant women are encouraged to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle that includes aerobic exercise, moderation is the order of the day. A woman’s body changes when she becomes pregnant. She has more fluid circulating in her body; hormones from the pregnancy make her ligaments more relaxed, thus she waddles. As the baby enlarges, the diaphragm (aka muscle of respiration) gets pushed up making it difficult for pregnant women to breathe. The heart rate increases and the center of gravity changes as the uterus becomes larger thus, increasing her risk of falling.
Miller participated in 8 previous marathons including one when she was pregnant with her first child. At that time she was 18 weeks. She says that she’s “crazy about running.” As the mother of two sons who were Junior Olympic Track and Field participants, I can relate. However, where is the voice of reason? Prolonged exercise means an increase in heat production which may or may not affect the fetus. Years ago, pregnant women were discouraged from running or performing any exercise that would increase their core temperature for fear it would adversely affect the fetus. Unborn babies cannot regulate temperature because their brains are not fully developed and it is a special part of the brain that controls temperature. In recent years, this rule has been relaxed because the medical studies are inconclusive. However, it is not recommended that pregnant women perform more than 45 minutes of continuous exercise and it should be in a temperature controlled environment. This was not the case with Miller. Although she ate frequently and drank water, she ran and walked for over 6 hours, developed contractions and subsequently went into labor. If her physician gave her permission to run at 39 weeks, then perhaps he or she should have accompanied MIller to monitor the process.
26.2 miles at 39 weeks is not a benign act and I certainly hope this will not become a trend among pregnant women. Can you imagine delivering a baby in the middle of a marathon? It would not be a pretty sight.