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.
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.
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 5, 2011
The umbilical cord of the fetus is the lifeline to its mother. Not only does it carry nutrients from the mother, but it also removes waste products from the fetus. The cord, as it is referred to, plays a very important role in obstetrics. At birth, a sample of blood from the cord is obtained and tested to identify its blood type and make certain the baby has enough oxygen. Traditionally, the cord is clamped immediately after birth or within the first 15 seconds of life to reduce the incidence of jaundice. However, this no longer holds true. A recent article in the New York Times discussed a Swedish medical study that demonstrated waiting 3 minutes or more before clamping the cord reduced the chances of getting iron deficiency in the newborn four months later. The blood of a newborn is unique because it is in its most primitive state and has stem cells. Stem cells are important because they have the potential to grow into many different cells in the body. When clamping of the cord is delayed, the baby essentially receives a blood transfusion of its own blood.
The practice of delayed clamping of the cord is not new but it is usually done after premature births to reduce complications. Delayed clamping of the cord of preemies by 30 to 120 seconds reduced the need for blood transfusions and reduced brain hemorrhages. These benefits were seen immediately. However, in the Swedish study, the benefits of delayed cord clamping were seen at a much later time interval of 4 months. This is was very significant and paves the way for further studies to determine if this benefit will still prevail months or even years later. Should all babies have delayed cord clamping? No not all. Newborns who had fetal distress during labor should not have delayed clamping because there is a greater transfer of blood from the placenta to the baby during this type of crisis. Also, babies who were growth restricted during pregnancy and babies of diabetic moms should not have delayed cord clamping as well.
Delayed cord clamping might play a significant role in the prevention of newborn and infant anemia. It certainly deserves a discussion with your healthcare provider at your next prenatal appointment.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
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.
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.
September 5, 2011
It seems that Matthew Scheidt, had a summer job working part-time for a surgical supply company. He allegedly went to the Human Resources Department of the Osceola Regional Medical Center (ORMC) and convinced them that he was a Physician Assistant student at Nova Southeastern University and lost his identification badge. This is the hospital where many of my former patients were forced to go for medical care because they were either uninsured or received Medicaid. My former employer had a fiscal relationship with them. The use of the word “forced” is quite appropriate because my uninsured patients had no options. When those who had Medicaid requested to deliver at a women’s hospital in another county they were discouraged to do so by the powers that be. I recall with great pain the memos, reprimands and threats I received from my former employer because I wanted to give my patients the freedom of choice. Oh, the stories I could tell about the numerous altercations I had with certain staff members regarding patient management issues. So the fact that this hospital is now on local and national radar screen does not surprise me at all. The hospital was formerly owned by the organization that Florida’s incumbent governor once worked for and eventually paid fines because of fiscal improprieties. The hospital’s long-standing former administrator resigned once the governor ran for office. Yes, politics indeed can affect patient management. But let us return to the story of Scheidt.
Scheidt allegedly performed CPR, changed IVs, cleaned wounds, performed interviews and physical exams on male patients who were disrobed. He was also in the operating room. He only got caught when he asked permission to go to “restrictive areas” of the hospital and I pray it wasn’t the labor and delivery suite. How did this happen? Because our healthcare system is presently on automatic pilot. There are no checks and balances. No accountability. A 17 year old can show up in the human resources department of the hospital and no one does a background check to verify his credentials. Pity the poor patients. This is one of many reasons why The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy (TSMG) was written. Patients need to be protected.
Could this happen to you? In a heartbeat if you’re not astute and aware. There is a chapter in TSMG, called Investigating the Places Where You Will Receive Care. I strongly encourage everyone to read it.
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.
April 6, 2011
In the wee hours of the morning, Patricia Garcia took her last breath and made her transition. Her death was not a total surprise, she had almost died before. Garcia was 39 years old and the mother of an 11-month old son name Josiah who had made his entrance three months earlier than expected because he had stopped growing in his mother’s womb. During her pregnancy, Garcia was concerned that she might die before Josiah was born because of her complications of having a stroke, obesity and failing kidneys. At barely 5 feet, Garcia weighed 261 pounds and was decidedly obese with a basal metabolic index (BMI) of over 40.
Obese pregnant women are plagued with almost every type of complication imaginable from miscarriages, higher rates of cesarean deliveries, birth defects, pre-eclampsia and sometimes death. Garcia received general anesthesia during the cesarean birth of Josiah. It would have been technically challenging to attempt to give her an epidural or spinal anesthesia. Because she was put to sleep, the surgical team had to move quickly to remove the baby so that it would not receive excessive amounts of the anesthetic. Garcia’s procedure was unfortunately prolonged by several minutes, again due to technical difficulties.
Obesity is a national epidemic with 26.7% of our population affected. Garcia was considered the smallest person in her family because her brother weighed 700 pounds prior to receiving a gastric bypass. Obese patients often face discrimination and humiliation from within the medical community. Diagnostic procedures have been cancelled when it is determined that the patient is over a certain BMI for fear that their equipment would not sustain the additional weight. Patient safety experts propose that “obesity centers” for pregnant women be established to provide nutritional counseling, emergency cesareans as necessary and neonatal intensive care units.
Garcia promised her physician that she’d lose weight after she was discharged home. She didn’t. Although Josiah is now more than a diminutive 1-pound-11 ounce baby, he is still very small and was recently diagnosed as having dwarfism. He will be raised by his sixty-something year old grandmother who is also taking care of Garcia’s mentally disabled brother. Obesity is not a benign disorder. Until Americans make better lifestyle choices, tragedies like Patricia Garcia’s will continue.