Man suing California hospital after wife dies in childbirth

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His lawsuit underlines a tragic rise in the death rate of pregnant and new mothers in the U.S.

LOS ANGELES (CNN) – A stunning new report finds American women are dying in childbirth at alarming rates. The U.S. is the only developed country with a rising death rate for pregnant or new mothers.

For African American women, the risk of death is higher.

Kira Johnson’s husband, Charles, is grieving — still angry from that night at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

“I can see the Foley catheter coming from Kira’s bedside turn pink with blood,” he said.

Charles said doctors told them now 3-year-old Langston’s birth would be a routine Caesarean section.

“I just held her by her hand and said, ‘Please look, my wife isn’t doing well.’ This woman looked at me directly in my eye and said, ‘Sir, your wife is not a priority right now.’ It wasn’t until 12:30 a.m. the next morning that they finally took the decision to take Kira back to surgery.”

As critical minutes turned into hours, Charles said he was continually ignored by staff at Cedars Sinai as Kira’s health continued to suffer.

“When they took Kira back into surgery and he opened her up, she had three-and-a-half liters of blood in her abdomen from where she’d been allowed to bleed internally for almost ten hours, and her heart stopped immediately.”

Charles is suing the hospital for the loss of his wife.

With the case pending, Cedars Sinai told CNN in a statement they could not respond directly because of privacy laws but that “Cedars Sinai thoroughly investigates any situation where there are concerns about a patient’s medical care.”

Kira was a successful entrepreneur who spoke five languages. She taught her firstborn son Mandarin.

This was a woman who could fly planes and skydive — deemed invincible by her family, which is why her death is so much more difficult to understand.

“I started to do research for myself. I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, we are in the midst of a maternal mortality crisis that isn’t just shameful for American standards, it is shameful on a global scale,’” Charles said.

The charity Every Mother Counts — founded by supermodel Christy Turlington — works on maternal health across the world but also in the U.S., which is the only developed country with a rising death rate for pregnant or new mothers.

Approximately 700 women in the U.S. die each year. Globally, the comparison is stark. More mothers die in childbirth in America than they do in Iran, Turkey, Bosnia Herzegovina or even Kazakhstan — all have lower maternal death rates.

Lynsey Addario is a Pulitzer prize-winning war photographer who has documented deaths of women in childbirth around the world in the same way she tackles a war zone.

“It’s almost more heartbreaking because I think when I go to war, I kind of know what to expect,” she said.

What Lynsey did not expect was to find her own birthplace, America, was failing pregnant women in some of the same ways much less-developed countries fail their mothers.

“When I go to the United States, I see these little scenes of heartbreak. I just can’t believe they are happening in my own country. It’s almost harder.”

Every Mother Counts said many of their deaths are because of an unequal health care system and systemic racism.

Public health experts also warn this crisis is not just affecting poor or sick moms but also healthy, college-educated, African American women.

“We do know there may be issues in terms of institutional racism,” Wander Barfield said. “A well-educated African American woman with more than a high school education has a five-fold risk of death compared to a white woman with less than a high school education.”

“There is a failure and disconnect from the people who are responsible for the lives of these precious women and babies to see them and value them in the same way they would their daughters, their mothers, their sisters,” Charles said.

Now part of an unnecessarily large fraternity of Americans who have lost partners in childbirth, Charles is pushing for policy changes, raising awareness and trying to hold doctors and hospitals accountable.

“If I can simply do something to ensure that I can send other mothers home with their precious babies, then it’s all worth it.”

He’s raising sons, teaching them about their mother.

“What I try and do is wake up every day and make mommy proud.”

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