As a young girl growing up in a small Long Island town called Amityville, Memorial Day was a huge holiday filled with parades and barbecues. I would inevitably end up at my friend Diane’s backyard eating a hotdog along with the rest of the kids on our block. It was also a day when we made our annual trip to the cemetery to place American flags on the graves of veterans and flowers on the graves of the deceased.
In honor of both Memorial Day and Preeclampsia Awareness Week, I’d like to take time to remember all mothers and their babies who died during childbirth, especially from preeclampsia.
What is preeclampsia and why is it so deadly? Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy in which there is high blood pressure; swelling of the ankles, feet, or face; protein in the urine; and abnormal kidney function. This condition requires the delivery of the baby in order to preserve the mother’s life and prevent seizures and strokes. The old fashioned term for preeclampsia was toxemia and it affects 1 out of 12 pregnancies each year. Approximately 76,000 women die annually from this disease and most people know of at least someone that it has affected during pregnancy.
When I think about preeclampsia, a woman name Dawn Fleming comes to mind. Dawn was 31 years old, a member of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta and a popular radio personality in Orlando. Although I did not know her personally, she was from my former home of Queens. She was gregarious, a community activist who died unexpectedly from a preeclampsia related stroke. She had recently married and delivered a baby girl 6 days before her untimely death. Her daughter is now approximately 16 years old and has never known her mother.
When I attended Dawn’s wake, I was both angry and sad. I suspected someone had inevitably missed the diagnosis and by the time she was given treatment, it was too late. Such is the case of the vast majority of preeclampsia victims. By the time a diagnosis is made, the damage is already done. In her book, You Have No Idea, celebrity Vanessa Williams and her mother, Helen, discuss preeclampsia as the reason for her paternal grandmother’s death.
I urge all of us to take a few moments to remember all the moms and babies who are no longer with us and stay tuned for more information about a tool that I’ve developed that will reduce the number of tragedies such as Dawn’s.
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