As the mother of two cross country athletes who won three high school state championships and made it to the Nike-sponsored national meet in 2015, I celebrate Allyson Felix’s victory as a record-breaking Olympian. However, as a board-certified African American ob-gyn physician, I celebrate her victory over preeclampsia and motherhood even more.
On November 28, 2018, Felix developed preeclampsia at 32 weeks that necessitated an emergency cesarean, and her daughter spent approximately one month in the NICU recovering. Felix could have easily lost her life and baby as a black woman based on irrefutable statistics regarding black maternal health. Gratefully, Felix’s physician had the skill set to recognize her risk factors and instructed Felix to go immediately to the hospital rather than an ESPN photo shoot.
California, where Felix was delivered, has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the U.S., a testament to their California Quality Collaborative for its forward-thinking and provision of tools to healthcare providers to prevent and reduce maternal death and near-miss disasters.
Thank God for the courageous physicians who delivered Felix at 32 weeks based on her emergency and did not hesitate because of the clinical guidelines that state babies shouldn’t be born before 39 weeks. Many women and babies have died because of their providers’ inability to recognize their risk factors and hesitancy to deliver them sooner.
Felix’s personal experience inspired her to testify before the U.S. Congressional Ways and Means committee in 2019. She also challenged Nike’s policy of cutting her pay by 70 percent three weeks after she delivered.
Felix’s fierce and relentless advocacy forced Nike to change its rules, but they lost her as an influencer. So instead, she started her athletic shoe brand, Saysh, and proudly wore them as she claimed her 11th Olympian medal in Tokyo.
Most people will remember Felix because of her athleticism, but I will honor her as a preeclampsia survivor, advocate, and, most importantly, a mom. Oh, and by the way, I’m in desperate need of a new pair of running shoes and one guess as to which brand I will buy?
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