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Three-time Olympic medalist Tori Bowie, who unexpectedly passed away in early May at the age of 32, was eight months into her pregnancy and in labor at her Florida home at the time of death, her agent confirmed Monday.
CBS News reports an autopsy review from the medical examiner’s office in Orlando said Bowie’s possible complications included respiratory distress and eclampsia. The baby she was carrying, a girl, was stillborn, the medical examiner reported.
Eclampsia is when a person develops seizures — episodes of shaking, confusion and disorientation — during pregnancy.
The biggest risk factor for eclampsia is preeclampsia, which is when a person who’s pregnant has high blood pressure and protein in their urine.
“Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious — even fatal — complications for both the mother and baby,” the Mayo Clinic says.
The number of women who die during or shortly after childbirth in the U.S. is higher than in any other developed nation, and the risks are even greater among women of color.
Eclampsia affects less than 3% of people with preeclampsia, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Studies have shown Black women in the U.S. are at greater risk for birth-related complications including preeclampsia.
Bowie’s Olympic teammate Allyson Felix had her own experience with the condition, being diagnosed with severe preeclampsia at 32-weeks pregnant. Felix underwent an emergency C-section, which may have saved her life.
In recent years, communities across America have embraced doula programs, community birthing centers, and midwifery to help address the deadly disparities in childbirth. Yet in the United States, about 6.9 million women have minimal maternal health care, according to March of Dimes.
Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.
What’s being done?
The Black Maternal “Momnibus” Act of 2021 has been introduced in Congress to provide pre- and post-natal support for Black mothers, including extending eligibility for certain benefits postpartum. Yet it hasn’t been passed.
The Black Women’s Health Imperative, in partnership with the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, released a 2022 study on how racism towards Black patients and nurses during birth experiences affects patient outcomes.
They plan to use the study’s findings to inform a POST-BIRTH Warning Signs Program that will reduce maternal mortality across the board.
Black Maternal Health Week is recognized each year from April 11-17 to bring attention and action in improving Black maternal health, though the problem persists at an alarming rate.