INDIANAPOLIS — A beloved doctor at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children passed away recently following complications after giving birth to a baby girl. The death of Dr. Chaniece Wallace, a pediatric chief resident, is shining the spotlight on the issue of maternal mortality.
“Preeclampsia’s a condition that only comes with pregnancy,” Dr. Lauren Dungy-Poythress said. “We don’t know exactly what causes it. It only comes with pregnancy; the cure for it is delivery.”
Dr. Dungy-Poythress is a maternal fetal medicine specialist with IU Health. 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,” Dr. Dungy-Poythress said. “It’s not always a classic triad that you’re used to looking at.”
Dr. Dungy-Poythress said 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 unfortunately 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 access 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, the Association of Black Women Physicians president, was outraged after learning of Dr. Wallace’s death.
“I was horrified,” Carlisle exclaimed. “Horrified and enraged because a young physician, she’s our sister physician, dying in pregnancy. Words really can’t express our horror and we as an organization extend our sincere condolences to her family and her colleagues. But we’re also enraged.”
Carlisle’s organization is based out of California. Their website states they are a group of Black women physicians who work to improve public health and welfare.
“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 which requires Indiana’s hospitals offering obstetric and neonatal care to be certified as a level I through IV. The order is based on the services they offer.
The goal is to allow women to choose the facility that is best for them.