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Physician highlights issues in Black maternal health, hopes to save lives

Yamicia Connor
Posted at 9:01 AM, Apr 09, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last week, KSHB 41 News shared Krystal Anderson's story, a former Chiefs cheerleader who died after battling sepsis following childbirth complications.

Anderson's story continues to raise questions about maternal health equity. Dr. Yamicia Connor is an OBGYN physician based in Boston, Massachusetts. She says her mission is to revolutionize women's healthcare and dismantle disparities.

"I think what this tragic story really underlies is just how much work we need to do to keep pregnant women safe, particularly Black pregnant women," Dr. Connor said. "I think what makes it really tragic is often these are women in the prime of their life. Young, healthy, really central parts of their families and communities where you don't really expect a young person in that situation to die suddenly and that's what makes pregnancy care really important."

According to Sepsis Alliance, Black women have more than twice the risk of severe maternal sepsis compared to white women.

The CDC states Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, contributing it to multiple factors including: quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.

"What I always tell people is, we always focus on maternal mortality, which overall, I just want to reassure viewers that is rare, but the rates of maternal morbidity are not that rare," Dr. Connor said. "Many women, I would say a little less than half, will have some type of scare during pregnancy that will prompt them to seek emergency services. A small fraction of those will go on to have more complications, but the longer you work in the obstetrical field, the more of these that you do see."

Dr. Connor says while patient empowerment and education is critical, it's the responsibility of the providers to keep the patients safe.

"The question's always hard, 'What should patients do?' Because that's not their responsibility," Dr. Connor said. "It's our responsibility as providers to keep patients safe, and so of course I think patient empowerment and education is critical, but that's not going to solve the problem, nor should that be the solution. It really is what the health care team and health care institutions need to do."

When talking with physicians, Dr. Connor emphasizes three key points.

"The first is to listen to your patients, they know their bodies, and oftentimes, the background of the story as you learn more information was, 'I wasn't listened to, they sent me home, no one takes me seriously,'" Dr. Connor said. "The second key point is really to have fresh perspective at each interaction. And so I tell patients all the time that, 'You may be fine now when I'm seeing you, but everything may change in an hour, two hours, next week,' so don't hesitate to bring up new concerns."

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She says the last part is for physicians to confront their own biases.

"What makes you a good physician is not that you don't have biases, 'cause we all have biases," Dr. Connor said. "What makes you a good physician is that you're able to acknowledge what biases are and you're actively working to address them."

Dr. Connor says hearing the statistics of Black maternal morbidity can demonstrate systemic, medical racism.

"There are a lot of red herrings that you will hear, like increase morbidities or lack of access to care, but I think the thing that really drives a point home at least for me is that no matter how much wealth, no matter how much education you have, as a Black woman, your outcomes are on par with the poorest white women, so right there you've just eliminated all of those explanations," Dr. Connor said. "It's not lack of healthcare, we have healthcare, it's not lack of education, I am educated. It's not that we don't go to the doctor, I do go to the doctor. It's not that I don't listen, I do listen, and so a lot of the things that people like to attribute this to I think are really ways of dodging the real issue."

Dr. Connor founded Diosa Ara, a women’s health consulting and concierge medical practice. Diosa Ara Medicine "provides comprehensive counseling, materials, education, and support throughout pregnancy, all tailored to our patients' particular risk factors."

"What we're working on is a medical model that specifically supports patients during obstetrical emergencies. And so you don't have to be the person that speaks up, we will speak up on your behalf," Dr. Connor said. "We're starting in the geographic south, but we're using a telehealth platform that is complimentary to your standard of care, and so using that model, we're hoping to provide resources for not only the patients that I see everyday in my office, but patients throughout the country."

Dr. Connor said it's important for patients to recognize what's normal and abnormal in pregnancy.

"If you have abdominal pain, that's something I want to evaluate. Bleeding in pregnancy; almost anytime during pregnancy that you're bleeding, that's something that I want a phone call so I can help you triage and figure out if you need to come to seek medical care immediately, and the last thing is leaking fluid, those are emergencies in my book until otherwise ruled out." Dr. Connor said. "Then, the fourth one I would say is after 28 weeks of pregnancy, a decrease [in] fetal movement. Those are three or four warning signs to always be thinking about throughout your pregnancy and if you experience those, your provider deserves a phone call."

CDC states Black maternal health week is recognized each year from April 11-17 to bring attention to improving Black maternal health.