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Death of Black mother after birth of first child highlights racial disparities in maternal mortality

Chaniece Wallace, an Indianapolis physician, died due to preeclampsia complications two days after she welcomed her daughter, Charlotte.

The death of a Black pediatrics doctor from postpartum complications after welcoming her first child is highlighting the racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

Dr. Chaniece Wallace, 30, died on Oct. 22, just two days after she and her husband, Anthony Wallace Jr., welcomed their daughter, Charlotte.

The baby was born four weeks early via C-section after doctors learned that Chaniece had symptoms of preeclampsia, according to a GoFundMe page Anthony set up. Over the next two days after giving birth, Chaniece underwent emergency surgery due to complications, he said.

Dr. Chaniece Wallace
Dr. Chaniece Wallace.Indiana University School of Medicine

"Three of the main challenges we encountered were a ruptured liver, high blood pressure, and kidneys were not fully functioning," he wrote. "Chaniece fought with every piece of strength, courage, and faith she had available."

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure condition that usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to Mayo Clinic. It can sometimes develop without any symptoms but signs of the condition include a rise in blood pressure, vision changes, severe headaches, signs of kidney and liver troubles, and upper abdominal pain.

It can lead to serious, even fatal, complications if left untreated.

Black women develop preeclampsia at a rate that is 60 percent higher than that of white women, according to a 2017 report by the Healthcare Cost Utilization Project. The report also found that the condition is less severe in white women than Black.

And data released in January by the National Center for Health Statistics show that Black women are affected by maternal mortality at a higher rate than white women. According to the data, the national maternal mortality rate was an estimated 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018, when 658 women died.

Dr. Chaniece Wallace.
Dr. Chaniece Wallace.via Facebook

Out of those 658 deaths, researchers found that Black women died 2.5 times more often than white women. Researchers do not have a clear explanation as to why that is.

Dr. Carmen Echols, a family medicine physician in the Atlanta metro area, said she believes there are a number of factors including the susceptibility to certain health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity.

“Having those preexisting conditions, not being adequately managed and then you add on the physical, and in many cases, the psychological stress of pregnancy can make those already not-well controlled preexisting conditions, complications," she said in a phone interview Friday.

Echols said discrimination in the healthcare system and cultural bias in medical education are also contributors.

"Knowing that discrimination exists, that's going to be chronic stress on the body that can increase your blood pressure and the body can have physical weathering from that," she said.

"And when you think in terms of populations as well, just having decreased access to reproductive [and] preventative healthcare ... African American women as a whole have decreased access to those aspects of healthcare."

She said that to begin to address the issue, there needs to be more discussion about it.

In an Oct. 27 tweet, Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo, a New York-based pediatrician and founder of Melanin Medicine & Motherhood, called for the protection of Black women.

"Dr. Chaniece Wallace. Say her name. We say protect Black women because you don't. All Black women, including health providers, who have dedicated their lives to keeping us alive," she wrote. "My head says don't stop until Black women in medicine & academia are safe, protected & supported. But my heart hurts."

Arabia Mollette, an emergency medicine physician and health expert from New York, said preeclampsia is one of the most preventable pregnancy complications, but the rates and prognosis is still higher in Black women.

"As a black woman doctor, my heart mourns for the loss of Dr. Wallace," she wrote, in part, on Facebook. "I wish there was another outcome where she was here to raise her daughter, Charlotte. There needs to be a revolution in #Obstetrics."

Prior to her death, Chaniece was working at Riley Children's Health Hospital in Indianapolis as a resident physician. Her husband said on the GoFundMe page that she had completed her board exams and had been interviewing for positions around the country.

Anthony could not be reached for comment Friday.

IU Riley Peds Residency said in an Instagram post that Chaniece's future impact was "sure to be expansive" and she was taken far too soon.

Anthony said that his daughter remains in the neonatal intensive care unit and "is doing exceptionally well."

"Chaniece although you are not with us physically, I will always carry you in my heart and share my wonderful memories of you with our daughter Charlotte. I am forever grateful for the five years God gave me with you," he wrote on the GoFundMe, which has raised more than $154,000 as of Friday afternoon.

A homegoing service for Chaniece is planned for Saturday.