North Texas

Number of Texas Women Who Die From Pregnancy Complications Highest in Nation

More women die from pregnancy complications in our state than anywhere in the nation, according to researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

They are looking for solutions to the high maternal death rate in state.

The deaths of women who pass away during or within a year of childbirth are categorized as maternal deaths.

"It’s really inconceivable to think that a country like ours is really talking about this and that it’s increasing. It’s such a tragedy for the families," said Assistant Professor Amy Ranes Milenkov, at UNTHSC.

No one knows the pain more than Allen Johnson, of Red Oak. His wife Calista passed away days after giving birth to their daughter on June 2, 2017.

"I'm a widower at 35, it's nothing you prepare for," said Johnson.

He says he and Calista were excited when they learned she was pregnant after years of trying, and that Calista was overjoyed when she learned she'd had a baby girl.

"She was excited because boys run in her family.  They told her it was a girl and she had a big relief on her face," said Johnson.

But three days after they brought Baby Angelique home from the hospital, Johnson says his wife called him at work, complaining of extreme headaches.

"I got a call from her.  I can barely understand her and her speech was kind of slurred and she said you need to come home," he recalls.

By the time he reached home, paramedics had taken her the hospital, where within hours, Calista died from what doctors believe was eclampsia, considered a preventable condition related to a hypertension disorder called preeclampsia, which accounts for 18 percent of maternal deaths in the U.S.

"I wished I recognized the signs earlier. I wish I would have just put my foot down when I asked her if she wanted me to come home," says Johnson.

"These are younger women that are having cardiac events and that's shocking!" says Milenkov.

"We know that there's an increase in hypertension among younger women.  We know there's an increase in diabetes. Obesity is one thing that factors into almost every health problem and we are seeing it play out in pregnancy outcomes as well and maternal health outcomes."

She also says more young mothers are dying of drug overdoses and suicide related to postpartum depression.

"Although there are providers that are doing depression screenings, we don't often have a resource to send women to once it's identified that they need some services," she adds.

She says most of these deaths can be prevented.

"It’s not only shocking, it’s embarrassing to have a maternal death rate that is higher than the nation's, but also, as a nation, we are increasing and it’s something that is a crisis that we have to attend to," she adds.

Allen Johnson's sister, Uniquka Johnson-Christian, is helping take care of her new niece.

She's eight months pregnant and agrees with researchers about a lack of awareness of pregnancy complications.

"I didn't know anything about eclampsia or pre-eclampsia," she says.  "If it's something that could be lethal, why don't more people know about it?"

Two weeks after welcoming his daughter, they're burying their loved.

A mother gone too soon during a search for answers that can't come soon enough.

Governor Greg Abbott says he wants the search for solutions to be a priority during the special session in July. 

He recently passed a bill that calls for postpartum depression screenings for mothers who receive government funded medical assistance.

State lawmakers will decide in July whether to continue or dissolve the taskforce researching the maternal death crisis in Texas. 

The Johnson Family is sharing Calista's story in hopes no other family goes through similar tragedy.  You can read more here.

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