INDIANAPOLIS (WXIN) — A beloved doctor at Indiana University Health Riley Hospital for Children passed away recently following complications from giving birth to a baby girl. The death of Dr. Chaniece Wallace, a pediatric chief resident, is shining a spotlight on the issue of maternal mortality.
Dr. Lauren Dungy-Poythress, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with IU Health, wants to spread awareness of dangerous conditions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth such as preeclampsia.
“Preeclampsia’s a condition that only comes with pregnancy,” said Dungy-Poythress, “We don’t know exactly what causes it. It only comes with pregnancy; the cure for it is delivery.”
She said some of the symptoms associated with this condition include high blood pressure, vision changes, nausea, vomiting, headaches and swelling of the hands and face.
“Preeclampsia can present any way it wants to,” Dungy-Poythress said. “It’s not always a classic triad that you’re used to looking at.”
The best line of defense is seeing the doctor regularly when pregnant.
“To be educated on some of the things you should look for, which all doctors typically tell patients every time you come to the hospital, clinic visits, one of the reasons they’re taking your blood pressure and dipping your urine is to see how much protein is in it,” Dungy-Poythress said. “Screening for preeclampsia.”
Dungy-Poythress also addressed the racial disparities for women of color, stating the maternal mortality rate is three to four times higher for Black women than white women, and “Hispanics fall somewhere in the middle there.”
“There are unfortunately concerns and evidence and research that would suggest, and people’s personal experience would also confirm, that there can be racial biases, there can be implicit bias, there can be institutional racism,” Dungy-Poythress said.
Dungy-Poythress said in Marion County last year, 53% of pregnant Black women had late access to care, meaning they did not have care in the first trimester.
“We know that early access, or access to prenatal care can improve outcomes,” Dungy-Poythress said. “If we can’t see you, can’t recognize some of the concerns, we can’t address and treat them later. Why is that? Is that because I don’t have the transportation, is that because when I do come to institutions, I feel marginalized and I’m treated differently and so, therefore, I don’t want to come and feel that way or be treated that way? This is an opportunity to uplift that conversation and say how can we help improve these outcomes?”
Dr. Sylvia Gates Carlisle, president of the Association of Black Women physicians, was “horrified” after learning of Wallace’s death.
“Horrified and enraged because a young physician, she’s our sister physician, dying in pregnancy,” Carlisle exclaimed. “Words really can’t express our horror, and we as an organization extend our sincere condolences to her family and her colleagues.”
Carlisle’s organization is based out of California.
“California has a death rate of 4.5 per 100,000 births, which is horrible, but Indiana has a death rate of 41 per 100,000 births,” Carlisle said.
Indiana established the Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which says it works to “identify pregnancy-associated deaths, review those caused by pregnancy complications and other associated causes, and identify problems contributing to these deaths and recommend interventions that may reduce these deaths.”
Last year, a requirement also went into effect that calls for Indiana’s hospitals offering obstetric and neonatal care to be certified as a level I through IV based on the amount of services provided. The goal is to allow women to choose the facility that is best for them.