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.
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.
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 16, 2011
A recent medical study by Dr. Ira J. Chasnoff of the Children’s Research Triangle asserts that Hispanic women who have assimilated to American culture have a greater risk of having children born with fetal alcohol syndrome. According to Chasnoff , pregnant Hispanic women in San Antonio had the second highest drinking rate of 29 cities in the states that were studied. I find that rather hard to believe based on my twenty-one year history of taking care of Hispanic pregnant women. I have seen first, second and third generation Hispanic women and never encountered alcoholism among any of them. However, Chasnoff brings up an interesting point about alcohol and pregnancy. There are two schools of thought. According to Good Morning America, there are physicians such as Dr. Jacques Moritz, who think an occasional glass of wine is okay to consume during pregnancy however the U.S. Surgeon General and the American College of Obstetrician-Gynecologists advocate strict abstinence from alcohol while pregnancy.
According to medical literature, more than one-half of women of childbearing age report drinking alcohol and 1 out of 8 women report binge drinking. Alcohol appears to have negative effects throughout the entire pregnancy, not just during the first-trimester. At present, it is not known how many drinks consumed would affect the fetus, therefore strict abstinence is recommended before conception and during the pregnancy.
What happens if a pregnant woman is alcohol dependent? She will need close monitoring because of the adverse effect on the fetus including support from a multidisciplinary team of healthcare and social work providers. Women who consume three or more drinks per day are encouraged to enter an alcohol treatment program. Women who drink less than 3 drinks per day are encouraged to receive counseling. The pediatrician should be present at the birth of a woman who is alcohol dependent in the event the baby has alcohol withdrawal. Women who continue to drink should be discouraged from breastfeeding.
Dr. Chasnoff is to be commended for studying substance abuse and pregnant women but please don’t stereotype ethnic groups in the process. Pregnant women should abstain from drinking alcohol if at all possible. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
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.
October 5, 2011
It’s a sad commentary when human beings have to be reminded how to act like human beings, especially when they’re in the helping profession. Loni Hildebrandt was a 29 year old certified nursing assistant who was pregnant with her first baby. Make that two babies because she was pregnant with twins. Hildebrandt considered her pregnancy miraculous because she had infertility and was a diabetic since the age of one. Together, she and her boyfriend saved their money and obtained fertility treatments. Her mother, Jo Novtny, a nurse of 30 years was ecstatic when she saw the ultrasound of her two grandbabies but her happiness was short-lived. One day after the procedure, Hildebrandt began to bleed so they went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital has an excellent maternal fetal medicine (aka high-risk obstetrics) department but Hildebrandt never made it there. She got as far as the hospital’s emergency room where she was attended to by one of its physicians. Despite repeated requests to have her blood sugar checked, Hidebrandt had to wait six hours before it was done. An ultrasound at the hospital revealed a blood clot that was causing the contractions and the ER doctor told her that he could probably save one by “suctioning the clot so the labor would stop.” According to The Herald Tribune, the physician suctioned the clot and one of the twins as well. Hildebrandt allegedly began bleeding more, passing bright red blood clots. They called for help but no one came. According to the newspaper report, a nurse put the afterbirth in a bedpan and left it near Hildebrandt’s head where she was lying. Her mother moved it and placed it under her daughter’s bed. Novtny ultimately delivered the second twin because no one else was around. The ER doctor returned to the room saw the fetus in Novotny’s hand took it from her and put it in a bucket.
Novtny states her daughter did not receive proper treatment until her personal physician arrived and remained in a pool of blood for over 10 hours. Hildebrandt’s iron count was dangerously low because of the bleeding. Her mother’s request to speak with the hospital administrator was met with no response so she wrote a letter to the governor instead. An investigation was done, gross negligence was found, the ER doctor resigned and Hildenbrandt’s nurse was cited for “lack of critical thinking skills.” The hospital will now have unannounced federal inspections in order to keep their Medicare payments. The hospital administrator issued a public apology.
Perhaps one day hospitals will do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Hopefully, Hildebrandt will become pregnant again and have a better outcome.
June 8, 2011
She was well past age 35 when she showed up in the emergency room inebriated, confused and complaining of a swollen stomach. One might ask shouldn’t she be able to tell whether she was pregnant after giving birth to so many children? Perhaps she was in denial because pregnancy had not served her well. Each child she brought into the world eventually became the ward of social service.
An ultrasound was done and the baby was in plain view. There could be no more denial. It was a third trimester pregnancy. An emergency room physician listened to the fetal heart rate and declared it normal. She requested that social service be contacted as the alcohol began to wear off. Perhaps she was mandated to do so if she ever became pregnant again. When social service was contacted they advised the hospital staff to call the police who in turn, deemed she should go to jail because of an outstanding warrant.
It was not known how long the fetus had been exposed to alcohol but no one bothered to contact an obstetrician. Or place her on a fetal monitor. Instead, the ER doc wrote on her discharge summary to contact an obstetrician in the event that she was incarcerated for more than three days. She refused to allow the ER doc to do a pelvic exam but the nurse did one instead. However, the pelvic exam was not documented on her chart.
It’s not clear what happen when she arrived at the jail. There were no patient records available for review and an obstetrician was not consulted or called. 48 hours after her hospital discharge, while sitting in her cell, she felt like she had to move her bowels, screamed for help and then pushed as hard as she could, and her baby landed into the toilet like a projectile. Its umbilical cord was severed from the traumatic birth and it nearly bled to death. By the time the ambulance arrived, the baby was lifeless but CPR brought it back to life. If only this story had a happy ending. The baby has severe brain damage and required life-saving surgery on its heart because it was born with an anomaly. Had the hospital kept the patient or obtained an OB consult prior to her discharge, the results of her delivery might have been more favorable.
Did she need to wear a neon sign to alert the hospital staff that she was a high-risk patient? No prenatal care. Alcohol abuse. Advanced maternal age. Need I go on?
Life should not begin in a toilet bowl. Its effects can be indelible, far-reaching and devastating.
[i] This is an actual medical malpractice case that I was asked to review and given permission to discuss.