Believe it or not, but it is not uncommon for women giving birth in the United States to experience dire emergencies during childbirth and afterward. In fact, in this year alone 1,000 women will die during childbirth, and another 60,000 will have near misses. Merck Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt and new mom (and postpartum hemorrhage survivor) Jennifer Albert joined me for an interview this week to discuss how physicians and pregnant women can try to prevent maternal mortality.
Candace Rose: Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, what is the status of maternal mortality in the U.S.?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt: “Maternal mortality which means death around the time of childbirth is a problem we tend to think of as being far away in the developing world or from a bygone era. Unfortunately it’s a very real problem in the United States today. We lose about 1,000 women a year to childbirth. Importantly we have about 60,000 near misses. One of the discouraging aspects of this illness is that it’s been on the increase. So while it’s decreasing in much of the world and they are taking steps to reduce maternal mortality, we’ve seen a doubling of it in the United States in the last two decades.”
Candace Rose: What are the leading complications that can be experienced during pregnancy and childbirth?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt: “There are a number of complications. We’ve focused on the three leading ones and trying to make awareness of that even greater in the U.S. We use a mnemonic PEP.
So the first of these is preeclampsia, which is a term for runaway high blood pressure that can threaten the mom and the baby.
The second is embolism, which is a blood clot which can move to the lungs.
The third is postpartum hemorrhage. That’s the loss of massive quantities of blood around the time of delivery, and that’s what Jennifer experienced.”
Candace Rose: Jennifer, can you share your story with us?
Jennifer Albert: “Sure. After a healthy pregnancy, I almost died during delivery. I suffered from postpartum hemorrhage. One of the doctors told me that the amount of blood that I lost was equivalent of that to a triple gunshot victim. I ended up with 17 blood transfusions, which is almost the amount of blood that’s in my entire body. I woke up in the ICU intubated. My family was traumatized due to the blood loss my vitals were dangerously low. It was touch and go for several days.”
Candace Rose: What is the one thing you want women and their families to know?
Jennifer Albert: “Make sure to be aware of the risks and complications that can occur during childbirth. Ask key questions to your doctor. Constantly ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. Have an advocate with you throughout the process if you can. Plan to give birth in a hospital that’s equipped to handle all different types of emergencies.”
Candace Rose: Dr. Rosenblatt, can these complications be prevented?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt: “Yes, I think the most important thing, there are a few things. One is to be connected to a doctor in the healthcare system to get good prenatal care in the months leading up to labor and delivery. The second thing is to deliver the baby in a facility that could handle one of these rare but very serious complications should they arise. The third thing is awareness. Being aware of these three major complications – we ask the family and friends to have a pep talk on preeclampsia, embolism and postpartum hemorrhage so that the pregnant woman will be aware at the first signs of a medical problem that might require early intervention.”
Candace Rose: What is Merck for Mothers?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt: “Merck for Mothers is a program that I’m very proud of and my colleagues, my fellow employees at Merck are very proud of. We’ve made a 10 year commitment to try to reduce death around childbirth around the globe, including the United States. We are contributing $500 million over that period of 10 years. We have people at the company working on this problem. We have people volunteering, it’s a big problem so we have people collaboratively with governments and for not for profit organizations who are trying to educate and increase awareness, improve accessibility, innovate and try to get some new therapies available to try to treat these complications when they arise.”
Candace Rose: Where can people go to learn more?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt: “I would recommend that they go to our website: MerckForMothers.com. There’s information about the program, and importantly, a lot of good information for pregnant women on that website.”