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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
September 19, 2011
In 2007, Melanie Jaggard went to the hospital for a punctured ear drum and was given the shock of her life. She had cancer; a very rare form that was located at the base of her brain.
Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is the second most common cause of salivary gland cancer but can affect other areas of the body. Melanie is one of only 20 to 25 people in the United Kingdom to have ACC and had a 2-inch tumor was removed from her head following a delicate 10-hour operation. She was single at the time, cancer free and one year later met the love of her life, Charlie Jaggard, on an online dating site. Charlie proposed three months after their first date and life was good, until she received the news that the cancer had returned, this time metastasizing to her lungs. Surgery was not an option because the tumors were too numerous and radiation was too risky to the lungs. However the couple was not discouraged. They married in January 2009 and Melanie decided to be a victor rather than a victim. Although 89 % of people with ACC survive after 5 years only 40% survive after 15. Melanie has a life-span of 15 years and she and Charlie have both decided to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. After careful consideration regarding Melanie’s condition and prognosis, they decided to start a family.
Melanie is now pregnant with twins and is very optimistic about her future. While there may be people who will criticize her for starting a family, the Jaggards are convinced that 10 to 15 years will give them time to raise money for a cure or at least discover medicines that can shrink the tumor. Approximately 1 in 1500 pregnancies is affected by cancer. Melanie holds the distinction of being the only pregnant woman to have ACC in the medical annals thus far. She is treading in unchartered water but optimism will be her guide.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” Hopefully one day her twins will thank her.