By Janelle Richards, Molly Roecker and Rehema Ellis
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Walker family, confused and devastated, is reflecting on the life of Tanesia Walker, 31, who died giving birth to her second child in November when her heart stopped after a C-section.
She was a flight attendant, a mother to nearly 2-year-old Tafari and was excited about meeting her newborn, Tyre.
“She was such a beautiful person, a sweetheart, a loving kind person,” her mother Marcia Walker told NBC News. “Her heart was so pure. She was just [waiting] for the day to see Tyre and Tafari together.”
Tanesia is just one of the women who have died at an American hospital soon after giving birth. ProPublica recently researched the medical care black women receive in hospitals across the country. Her family says there were no warning signs leading up to the moment that ended in tragedy.
"I am broken inside. I am broken, because I have to take care of her sons," said Marcia Walker. "And just to look at them and knowing how much his mom loved him and she's not here."
Tanesia’s brother Dwayne Walker drove her to the SUNY Downstate to give birth. He was unaware that would be the last time he would see her.
“We, as Americans, should be outraged that we can't even send our daughters or wives or even sisters to hospitals to have a routine procedure,” he said.
The numbers are staggering. In most developed nations, the number of maternal deaths is on the decline. The United States, however, has seen numbers more than double since 1987, and now has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the developed world, according to the World Health Organization.
About 50,000 women suffer complications during pregnancy, according to the CDC, and black women are three to four times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy. Researchers say the issue has no single cause, but persistent poverty, inadequate healthcare and higher risk factors such as high blood-pressure, obesity and diabetes impact black women at a higher rate.
"I think [these numbers are] unacceptable. I think they've been long standing disparities in maternal health and they're becoming larger today in certain cities and it's very concerning,” said Dr. Elizabeth Howell, Director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. She said there are racial and ethnic disparities that could be the reason for the poor statistics.
Researchers advise that women know their risk factors and health status and advocate for themselves.
In an interview with Vogue magazine, tennis star Serena Williams explained how she had to coach doctors through saving her life after her daughter Alexis was born this past September. Williams had a history of blood clots and when she felt short of breath she immediately thought something was wrong. The doctors gave her a scan and found that several small blood clots were in her lungs.
“We have a lot of work to do as a nation and I hope my story can inspire a conversation that gets us to close this gap. Every mother, regardless of race, or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and childbirth,” Williams said in a Facebook post.
Janelle Richards is a Producer for "Nightly News with Lester Holt" in New York.
Molly Roecker is a New York-based journalist with NBC News.
Rehema Ellis joined NBC News in 1994 as a general assignment correspondent. In 2010 she was named education correspondent and was an integral part of NBC’s first annual Education Nation summit that focused on the strengths and weaknesses of America’s education system.
Her reports appear on "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," and MSNBC. Ellis was part of the NBC Emmy award-winning coverage of the plane crash in the Hudson River called, Miracle on the Hudson. She also won an Emmy for her reporting on the 2008 Presidential Election of Barack Obama and his historic inauguration.
Ellis has been part of other headliner stories including the attacks on the World Trade Center. She was the first person to identify the attack on the air as “Nine-Eleven." She’s reported on Hurricane Katrina, the death of Michael of Jackson and the Haiti earthquake.
As a correspondent for NBC, Ellis traveled to Zaire to report on the mass killings that left an estimated one million people dead in Rwanda. A few years later she spent a month in Greece covering the summer Olympics.
Ellis began her broadcast career at KDKA Radio and TV in Pittsburgh. Later, she worked in Boston at WHDH-TV as a reporter and weekend anchor.
She has distinguished herself as a lead correspondent and received numerous awards including local and national Emmys, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Associated Press awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists. She's also a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Journalism.
Born in North Carolina, and raised in Boston, she graduated from Simmons College in Boston and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Ellis currently lives in New York City with her young son.