GREENSBORO, N.C. — What was supposed to be the happiest day for a new father, turned into a nightmare! Brandon Issac watched his newborn son and his wife, Tomeka, fight for their lives in the delivery room.
The Issac's story is part of a disturbing trend that shows more mothers are dying due to complications during childbirth. And for Black women, the numbers are even more alarming.
Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women in the United States and experts say race is a factor.
A first-time father, Brandon Issac was excited about becoming a dad.
"I thought, 'this is my boy, we can play ball, we can run track. This is going to be my mini-me,'" said Issac.
Related: Mothers Matter
Brandon and his wife Tomeka were simply overjoyed to welcome their baby in June; a boy they named Jace.
By all accounts, the Isaac's were planning a smooth delivery. Tomeka was healthy. There were no problems and every appointment went well.
"I was on cloud 9," said Brandon.
But all the happiness, excitement, thoughts of new life and beginnings stopped suddenly. Mother's Day weekend 2018, Tomeka is rushed to the emergency room.
"She has a softball-sized hematoma on her liver and her liver had gotten so swollen it was pressing up against everything else," said Brandon. "There was almost a liter of blood in her stomach."
The emergency room doctors discovered 88 milligrams of protein in Tomeka's urine; eight times the normal amount.
"HER BODY IN CRISIS; HER LIVER RUPTURED"
Her body in crisis; her liver ruptured. Doctors performed seven surgeries but they couldn't stop the bleeding.
"As fast as they were putting it in, it was coming out and at the point, it's a coin flip, whether or not she's going to make it," said Brandon.
This happens to 50,000 women in the United States a year. Women who almost die due to pregnancy-related complications.
EVERY YEAR 800 MOTHERS DIE FROM CHILDBIRTH
Every year 800 mothers do not survive and according to the Centers for Disease Control, the numbers are worse, for black women. In North Carolina, for every 12 white women who die, there are 30 black women who do not survive childbirth.
Dr. Walda Pinn is an Attending Physician at Central Carolina OBGYN. She is not the Issacs doctor, but she is an expert on maternal mortality in Greensboro.
"African American women are dying more during childbirth and after childbirth because of misses whether it be having a stroke from hypertensive crisis. Statistics show that African American women have an innate risk just by ethnicity alone," said Pinn.
"You’re at risk for preterm labor, hypertension in pregnancy, you're at risk for preterm babies and gestational diabetes from just race alone," she added.
There is one miracle in this. Tomeka survived!
"I was dying and I had absolutely no idea I was dying," said Tomeka. "A simple urine test would have told you that something is wrong, we need to deliver because pre-eclampsia, with HELLP syndrome, the cure is delivery."
HELLP Syndrome is a complication of pregnancy characterized by hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and a low platelet count. It usually begins during the last three months of pregnancy. But it's preventable, easily detected and treated with proper screenings.
Tomeka says her OBGYN never gave her a urine test, missing all the warning signs.
"As a doctor you have a responsibility to take care of your patients and mine failed me!"
When she awoke from her coma, Tomeka learned her near-death, was far worse than she could have ever imagined.
JACE NEVER MADE IT HOME
"How do you tell somebody that their son died? How do you tell a mother who was just pregnant, that you have to hold your baby and you have to say goodbye to him," questioned Brandon." That was the hardest part."
"I was dying, and my son was gone, and he didn't have to be. This all could have been avoided," said Tomeka.
In an instant, Tomeka and Brandon's life changed. They would never bring Jace, home.
"The first and only time I held my son I was intubated, and I had on mitts, so I couldn't say anything. I couldn't feel him, I couldn't touch him. It was just, a stolen moment."
Tomeka wants to know why?
"What happened, I mean why didn't you help me? He was 4 pounds 7.6 ounces, he could have survived, but they failed me, they completely failed me"
She says race is a factor.
"There's definitely a bias with black women," said Tomeka.
Dr. Pinn explains why.
"There is some element of bias and I don’t think it is intentional," said Pinn. "Practitioners are not identifying Black women as high risk. Not to isolate out a woman based upon her race but to understand that she's in a high-risk category based for her race alone and not every practitioner is doing that."
"So many black women are dying. So many babies are dying from preventable causes. That means we could have caught this we could have our son, we could have had Christmas with our son, but because I'm black?"
With this second chance at life comes a unique gift to share what happened to them, so it doesn't happen to anyone else.
"Now the road to recovery involves helping other people recover," said Brandon.
"We want to see babies born, we want to see mothers not dying from things they don't have to die from. It's time for it to stop," added Tomeka.
Tomeka and Brandon are now sharing their story with the world to help educate other women who could be in a similar situation. You can follow along with their story on their Facebook page by clicking here.
- Find out more about Preeclampsia, here.
- What you should know about protein in your urine
- Frequently asked questions about Preeclampsia
- Who gets Preeclampsia?
- When does Preeclampsia occur in pregnancy?
- Related: Mother Matters