Improving maternal health care is a pressing issue facing the U.S. This week, a major city hospital has announced a move that serves as a step in the right direction. NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center have opened a Mothers Center, a first-of-its-kind outpatient space that will provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care before, during and after pregnancy to women with acute or chronic medical and surgical complications. Specifically, the Mothers Center is equipped to help women with a wide range of serious complications and risk factors across 15 different specialties , such as lung and heart transplants, hypertension, seizure disorders, and placenta accreta, a condition that increases the risk of premature birth and life-threatening blood loss after delivery.
The hope is that the center will lay out a blueprint for other hospitals to follow suit and that better-coordinated care will lead to better outcomes. Dr. Mary D'Alton, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and visionary for the new Center, has made it her mission to reduce the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S., and in New York state in particular.
A statement from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital states that "more than 20 centers of this model exist in the US for fetal care—and we’ve seen a reduction in the rates of infant mortality—but none provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary coordinated care all in one location to the mother carrying the baby."
Stories of two moms who were treated by the hospital illustrate the center's hugely positive potential.
Current patient Ebony Boyd, 36, was thrilled to find out she and her boyfriend were pregnant with their first child. Her pregnancy seemed normal pregnancy, except for some swelling in her extremities that her doctor didn't see as problematic, but at six months in, Ebony found herself in excruciating pain while at her job working for the New York City Comptroller. Unable to walk due to the pain, one of her colleagues helped her into a cab to NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan.
Doctors could not locate a fetal heart beat and rushed Ebony in for an emergency C-section. She was rapidly hemorrhaging blood and had undiagnosed preeclampsia. Doctors were able to control the bleeding and save Ebony, but her baby did not survive. Ebony spent the next two days at the hospital, but when she was preparing for discharge, nurses noticed her heart rate was abnormally high. It turned out she was experiencing a pulmonary embolism, which could have lead to a seizure or stroke had it not been caught that quickly.
One year later, Eboy is six months pregnant, expecting a baby girl! When she found out she was expecting, her OB/GYN suggested she see high-risk maternal fetal medicine specialist. Ebony also sees a hematologist at NewYork-Presbyterian. Thanks to the new Mothers Center, she'll be able to see all of her doctors in the same place and have a care team in place to create a game plan for her birth.
"I think it's a great idea," Ebony noted in the hospital's statement. "Sometimes you have a whole lot of complications or issues with your pregnancy. You’ve got to bounce around from office to office. It becomes a lot. Then the more pregnant you get, the bigger you get. You're tired. Sometimes you just don't want to be all over New York City, going to four and five different doctors. It's wonderful if you can have one central location where you're there, you're taken care of, and the doctors come to you."
Another patient, Cathryn Scheipers, based in Washington, D.C., suffered complications related to an extreme form of preeclampsia and ended up staying for five weeks at NewYork-Presbyterian. Her blood pressure was kept stable for that long, but on January 17, 2015, it spiked to the point that is was no longer safe for the baby to remain inside of her. That day, Cathryn delivered her 2 lb. 8 oz daughter by C-section at 30 weeks and five days at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Underdeveloped and fragile, Caroline needed to spend two weeks in the NICU at NewYork-Presbyterian before Cathryn and her daughter were safely delivered home to D.C. by ambulance.
Fast-forward to today, and both Cathryn and Caroline are healthy and happy. Cathryn has also welcomed a second child named Spence. During the weeks she spent in the hospital before Caroline was born, she says it wasn’t about her becoming a mom anymore, it was about her not dying; she had to detach from being a mom and just survive.
It's beyond heartening to know the Mothers Center will offer women in and around New York City the kind of care women everywhere deserve. Let's hope it lays the groundwork for similar facilities to open around the country and serve to both improve and save moms' lives.