There are few people who can claim the amazing feats that Tori Bowie had, a three-time Olympic medalist and a world champion sprinter in the women’s 100 and 4x100 meter relay, top in her field. She tragically passed away at her home last month due to complications in childbirth.
In May, Bowie was found in her home in Florida by sheriff deputies during a wellness check after not being heard from over several days. She was 32. An autopsy revealed that she died of complications related to childbirth, including respiratory distress and eclampsia. She was eight months pregnant and at the time of death was undergoing labor. Unfortunately, her daughter also did not survive.
What is eclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a very serious condition of pregnancy that could potentially result in eclampsia – seizures, that are life-threatening – and potentially the death of both mother and baby.
It is a high blood pressure condition that usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth and is characterized by elevated blood pressure levels and protein in the urine. Other symptoms include vomiting; sudden swelling of the face, hands, or feet; pain below the ribs; severe headaches; and vision changes.
It is unknown what the exact cause of this condition is. However, it is thought to be related to problems with the placenta, the organ that links the mother’s and fetus’s blood supply together.
There are different risk factors for getting this condition such as:
- Having high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Having an autoimmune condition
- Having kidney disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes before you were pregnant
The only way to get rid of this condition is to deliver the baby, although postpartum pre-eclampsia can also occur in the days following delivery. Often, the patient has to be carefully monitored in the hospital by specialists and may be induced or have a cesarean section (C-section) at a time deemed acceptable by the experts.
Why did this happen to Tori Bowie?
This sad case is unfortunately not unusual and has highlighted the elevated maternal mortality rates among Black women in the United States. In fact, Black women are 60 percent more likely to develop preeclampsia than white women and have a 2.6-times greater maternal mortality rate. There are many reasons for this, including sexism, racism, and income inequality.
There are many cases of Black women who have their pain or symptoms dismissed by clinicians. Back in 2017, Serena Williams had a serious medical complication that was originally dismissed by medical professionals. Only once she advocated for herself was she found to have a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Another teammate of Bowie’s, Allyson Felix, also experienced preeclampsia and complications during childbirth and had an emergency C-section at 32 weeks.
“We’re dealing with a Black Maternal Health crisis. Here you have three Olympic champions, and we’re still at risk,” Allyson Felix told Time Magazine. “This is America, in 2023, and Black women are dying while giving birth. It’s absurd. I’m hopeful that things can get better. I’m hopeful that Tori, who stood on the podium at Rio, gold around her neck and sweetness in her soul, won’t die in vain.”
Another teammate on the 4x100 relay team, Tianna Madison, also had serious complications during childbirth. She went into labor at 26 weeks, and luckily both she and her child (after serious medical intervention) survived. This means that three out of the four in the 4x100m relay team had serious complications or died of them in childbirth.
There is currently a critical Black Maternal Health Crisis occurring, and more attention and action need to occur to resolve it.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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