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Gold medalist's pregnancy-related death prompts more calls for change

According to the CDC, Black women are about three times more likely to die in childbirth than White women.
Gold medalist's pregnancy-related death prompts more calls for change
Posted at 10:26 PM, Jun 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-14 22:27:13-04

Tori Bowie was seemingly the picture of health, setting records on the world stage and going for gold.

Then in May came news that the 32-year-old track star had died. Now, an autopsy report obtained by Scripps News confirms Bowie was eight months pregnant and died of pregnancy-related complications, including possible respiratory distress and eclampsia.

"When they have a seizure due to the elevated blood pressure, that is what is called eclampsia," explained Dr. Tamika Auguste.

Auguste, an OB-GYN for more than 19 years says hypertensive disorders, a leading cause of Black maternal deaths, come on suddenly. 

"It is not a genetic issue due to race that is causing this, but we do see an increased incidence in Black women during pregnancy than we do in White women," explained Auguste.

According to the CDC, Black women are about three times more likely to die in childbirth than White women regardless of their income, education or appearance of health.

"I remember at one point the doctor coming in and saying we cannot wait any longer, we're going to have to rush you in for an emergency C-section," said Allyson Felix.

Bowie's former teammate, Allyson Felix, has spoken out in the past about pregnancy scares due to preeclampsia. And Tennis star Serena Williams says in her case, the red flags, pleas for help and her medical history were ignored.

"I started coughing because I couldn't breathe. It hurt so bad. It hurt so bad," said Williams.

SEE MORE: Why do Black women have the highest maternal mortality rates?

"There's these associations that we don't feel pain, that we're not taken seriously, all of those factors add to the reason why Black women are dying three to one over White women," explained Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, a family care physician.

Dr. Curry-Winchell, a Black maternal health advocate says her position as a doctor didn't spare her from medical bias but may have saved her life.

"I knew that I didn't feel the same way I did after my first C-section. So I shared that with my nurse and she said, you know, Dr. Currie-Winchell, everything looks fine. Your vital signs look fine. You're okay," she recalled.

She says her complaints were ignored.

"I was fortunate in the fact that I had my OB's number, as a colleague, I had his number in my cell phone. And so my husband called him and said, 'Something's wrong with Bayo, please come back and see what's going on,'" she continued.

"He took me back to the operating room, found out that I was bleeding internally. And I am so grateful that I'm here today," she concluded.

She uses that experience to educate the public about medical bias through Ted Talks and via her group, Beyond Clinical Walls.

Dr. Auguste says strides are being made in the world of maternal care, including more doctors sending patients home with blood pressure devices. She also says the medical world must continue to explore other social determinants of health.

And while the circumstances surrounding Bowie's death are unknown, advocates and friends are mourning a life gone too soon, with Felix calling her passing absolutely heartbreaking.

Bowie once explained her mission in life was to remain humble, stating, "Life can change at like a drop of a dime, so I try to stay in that appreciative state of mind and just being thankful at all times."


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