Let me put it right out there. I am the daughter of a schizophrenic, so I am well-versed in discussing mental health issues.

My beloved mother battled schizophrenia from adolescence until well into her adult life. Because of the graciousness of her sisters, who allowed me to live with them, I did not end up in the “system” (aka foster care) despite their limited resources.

Tori Bowie, like me, was not raised by her mother but by her grandmother. We do not know the circumstances, nor is it necessary. She was an Olympian in track and field, and as the mother of two cross-country state champions, I understand that journey well. The discipline. The perseverance. The pressure to be perfect in a very imperfect world.

Tori was found dead at the age of 32, pregnant and alone. It took a well-check visit by law enforcement to discover her death. How does a 32-year-old woman end up dying at home alone while giving birth?

Initially, people speculated that this tragedy resulted from a home birth gone wrong. However, the objective evidence does not support that if you dig deeper, and as a physician and MSW, I did.

The Orange County Coroner’s report states Tori weighed 96 pounds on a 5’9 frame. The calculation of her BMI (Basal Metabolic Index) results is 14.2, meaning she was significantly underweight during her pregnancy. Her weight is the type of weight you see in cancer patients.

Orange County Coroner also reported that Tori also had a medical history of Bipolar Disorder. This objective evidence is a glaring red flag that my poor sister had some deep issues. One of her friends commented that Tori’s world was becoming “more and more isolated.” “People had disappointed her.”

Her agent, Kimberly Holland, commented that Tori “did not trust hospitals.” That statement broke my heart because, as a Black woman, her reasons were valid. But back to her weight and her friend’s comments. Did the father of Tori’s baby abandon her? Was her weight loss reflective of depression? We will never know these answers. I’m not trying to pry into Tori’s personal life, but her case represents teachable lessons for the future. It demonstrates why addressing the social determinants of health of pregnant women, especially women of color, is so important.

Tori Bowie’s case highlights the importance of checking in on friends and family even when they don’t want us to. Even if it means getting on a plane, especially if they’re pregnant, it may mean you get your feelings hurt, and I have borne witness to that regarding a personal family issue that I will not discuss.

Yes, Tori died from complications of pregnancy that included eclampsia and respiratory failure, but I suspect my sister also died of a broken heart.

 

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