Pregnant Mother Who Drove into the Ocean Will Remain in Hospital

ebony wilkerson

Thank God for common sense. For once, the state of Florida has done something right and kept Ebony Wilkerson, (the 32 year old pregnant mom who drove her kids into the ocean) into a hospital where she rightfully belongs. Wilkerson is 7 months pregnant and certainly doesn’t need to be in a jail where the chances of her having a healthy baby are greatly diminished. Had it not been for good Samaritans who ran into the Atlantic Ocean and rescued Wilkerson, three innocent children and an unborn baby would have met an untimely demise.
What is it about our country that prevents us from recognizing mental illness when it smacks us dead in the face? The fact that Wilkerson was interviewed and released by law enforcement agents three hours before she drove into the ocean is troubling. Mental illness is a public health disease and yet it’s treated as an afterthought in a “too-busy-society” that focuses more on entertainers’ wardrobes and scandals as opposed to its citizens that need immediate attention and intervention.
Pregnancy can bring out the best in women but it can also provoke anxiety, depression, social isolation, rejection, substance abuse and changes in economic status. Pregnant women who have mental illness might be reluctant to take their medications, which only makes their illness worse. Or, they might become victims of domestic violence because of their partners’ lack of desire to have children.
Thank goodness we can learn from our mistakes. Unless law enforcement officers have mental health training, they need to bring patients to an Emergency Department for further evaluation whether they appear to be “normal” or not. Psychiatrists should be alerted before a patient signs out against medical advice (as in the case of Wilkerson) to determine whether the patient needs medication and a possible court ordered stay.
It’s tragic that no one (with the exception of her sister) believed Wilkerson had a mental health problem until she drove her car into the ocean. How many more families will suffer before we finally get it right?

“Help! Our (Pregnant) Mommy is Trying to Kill Us!”

Pregnant mom drives car into the ocean

The three children (ages 3, 9 and 10) and the unborn baby of Ebony Wilkerson are lucky to be alive, despite the fact that she drove her van into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. Two hours prior to this horrific event, the Daytona Police interviewed her, deemed that she was sane and left. The day before, a local hospital kept her overnight for mental health observation for 24 hours and then sent her home. If I were the sister of Ebony Wilkerson, I’d speed-dial liability attorneys and then immediately request Wilkerson’s medical records because obviously someone dropped the proverbial ball.

Wilkerson’s sister knew something wasn’t right because Wilkerson exhibited paranoia and kept discussing Jesus and demons that she felt were controlling her. She had fled South Carolina because she believed that her ex-husband was attempting to kill her. Eerily, Wilkerson is from the same state where Susan Smith drove her children into the ocean 20 years ago and blamed the crime on an unknown man. Unlike Smith, whose children died; Wilkerson and her three children were gratefully rescued by a heroic group of men who selflessly plunged into the water to save them.

Kudos goes to Wilkerson’s sister who had the wisdom to call law enforcement and report her sister’s bizarre behavior and hide her car keys. Unfortunately Wilkerson had another set of keys. What’s troubling about this case is how Wilkerson was able to sign herself out of the hospital and how she fooled the police to thinking that she was sane which meant that didn’t have to “Baker Act” her or commit her to the hospital . I find it hard to believe that Wilkerson could walk out of a hospital after seeing a psychiatrist which leads me to speculate that perhaps the hospital didn’t have a psychiatrist on duty at the time.
Law enforcement officers are not trained mental health specialists. In the future, when they are called for a suspected mental health issue, a better approach might be to take the individual to the hospital, despite the appearance of a person’s “calm demeanor” and let the experts make or rule out the diagnosis of mental illness.

Mental illness is not a joke, America. It claims innocent lives every day.

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Brain Dead and Pregnant: A Moral Dilemma

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

The contradictions of life can be maddening. On one hand, we have the case of Jahi McMath, a 13-yearold girl who is brain dead on a mechanical ventilator that her family fought to maintain and on the other hand, there is Marlise Munoz, a 33 year-old mother of a 15 month old son, who collapsed on her kitchen floor from what appeared to be a blood clot to the lungs back in November. Munoz, according to her husband and family, never wanted to be on life support but the state of Texas ordered it when they discovered that she was 14-weeks pregnant. Should state law override the wishes of a patient because of her pregnancy?

The family of Munoz is concerned and angry about the state of Texas’s decision for a number of reasons. Munoz was without oxygen for over an hour before her husband found her on the floor which meant that the fetus was without oxygen as well. Medical experts believe this could cause serious problems for the unborn baby. Munoz’s father describes his daughter has having “rubbery arms that feel like a mannequin” which makes it difficult for him to visit her in the hospital. Munoz was very early in her second trimester (14 weeks), remote from delivering a baby, yet forced to be, as her father states, “a host for the fetus.” Who will have the ultimate responsibility of raising the child once the physicians intervene and deliver it via C. Section?

When John Peter Smith Hospital was confronted regarding their decision, they emphatically state that they are merely following the rule of law; however some medical ethics experts disagree and state that the hospital is misinterpreting the law. According to the New York Times, at least 31 states have adopted restrictive laws prohibiting physicians for ending life support for “terminally-ill pregnant women regardless of the patient’s wishes or her family’s.”

Should a brain dead pregnant woman lose her rights under the United States Constitution in order for the benefit of her unborn baby? I’d love to know what you think.

What Will Prenatal Care Look Like in the Future?

In today’s tough U.S. economy, healthcare is in the forefront because of the three trillion dollars spent each year. Patients are not seeing their money’s worth and neither is the U.S. government who writes the check for a large percentage of it. The cost of women having babies too early or prematurely costs our society $26 billion dollars each year. Something has to give.

Women’s health is the topic of great political debate as you may well be aware if you listen to the news or watched both political parties’ national conventions during the past two weeks. Do women control their destinies? Do we and will we continue to have control over our bodies? These are the questions at hand. While there’s great chatter about this topic as the U.S. election nears, there’s also a quiet revolution occurring in our healthcare system that will directly affect pregnant women.

Prenatal care as we know it will begin to change, especially if you receive Medicaid or government sponsored insurance. The current trend is to visit your healthcare provider’s office individually and wait to be seen. In the future, you will be seen by your healthcare provider as a member of a group, not as an individual. This is called enhanced prenatal care with group appointments and will be the wave of the future.

Groups of 10 pregnant women will be seen at the same time for approximately 10 prenatal visits that will last approximately 90 minutes. It is anticipated that 2 healthcare providers will not only take your vital signs, listen to your baby’s heartbeat, but will also allow you to interact with the other patients in this group setting to discuss prenatal issues, receive health education information and any concerns that you may have. Believe it or not, this model of care is not new.  The concept was called Centering Pregnancy and was developed by nurse midwife Sharon Shindler-Rising in 1989.

In the future, doulas and social workers along with midwives will become more prominent in terms of prenatal care as things continue to evolve. Are you ready for group prenatal visits?

What Pregnant Women Can Learn From a Cabbage

ImageIn the Native Americans culture it is said: “If you want to learn the lessons of life, please observe Nature.”

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.

Down Syndrome: Is It Wrong To Be Born?

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.

You’re Pregnant and Your Local Hospital Closed. Now What?

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.

What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know About Genetics

The story regarding Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s daughter, brings the subject of genetics into the forefront. Santorum’s 3-year-old daughter, Bella, has Trisomy 18, which is an abnormal disorder where some cells do not contain 2 complete sets of 23 chromosomes. It is almost always fatal and most affected babies die at birth or shortly thereafter. Bella, by some schools of thought, might be considered a miracle.

The diagnosis of a genetic disorder such as Trisomy 18, usually begins with either a screening blood test such as quad screen, or a routine ultrasound after 17 to 18 weeks. The technician or physician might note a fetus that has a clenched fist or unusual feet called Rockerbottom feet. These signs are called the Edward’s syndrome. Other ultrasound findings that suggest genetic abnormalities include polyhydramnios or excessive amniotic fluid, a “double-bubble” sign indicating a condition called duodenal atresia that is associated with Down syndrome as well as heart problems. Also, most fetuses with Down syndrome also have congenital heart problems.

If a suspicious finding is detected on an ultrasound, the technician should report it to your physician immediately for further evaluation and consultation. These consultations should include a referral to a geneticist. The geneticist will take a complete family history from both you and the father of your baby and might suggest obtaining an amniocentesis procedure to obtain fetal cells for confirmation of the disorder. All amniocentesis procedures require written consent because there is a 1 percent risk of rupturing the membranes during the procedure. There are 2 schools of thought regarding genetic screening: one school says why bother? There’s nothing that can be done. The other says it is good to know in advance so that the mother can make critical decisions regarding the continuation of the pregnancy.

Genetic counselors can identify other potential problems such as hemophilia and color blindness which are called x-linked disorders. These conditions are carried on the genes of females but only expressed or affected by males.

Genetics is an evolving field that continues to play an important role in obstetrics and pediatrics. All pregnant women should be encouraged to fully utilize their services as needed.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.

Alcohol: Is An Occasional Drink Really OK During Pregnancy?

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.

Why Late Term Pregnancies and Marathons Do Not Mix

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.