Of the 700 U.S. mothers who die in childbirth each year, a massive chunk of them are Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This maternal mortality crisis was a harrowing fact Charles Johnson was unaware of until he lost his wife, Kira, who died hours after giving birth to their second child.
Kira was just 39 when she went in for a routine C-section back in 2016.
Both she and her husband were awaiting the arrival of their second son, Langston, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but not long after the procedure, Charles noticed something was wrong.
“I can see the Foley catheter coming from Kira’s bedside begin to turn pink with blood,” Charles shared with CNN. “I just held her by her hands and said, ‘Please, look, my wife isn’t doing well.’ This woman looked me directly in my eyes and said, ‘Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.’”
Charles revealed that his concerns about his wife’s well-being did not just happen for a few minutes, but for hours.
“It wasn’t until 12:30 a.m. the next morning that they finally made the decision to take Kira back to surgery,” he said. “When they took Kira back to surgery, and he opened her up, there were three and a half liters of blood in her abdomen, from where she had been allowed to bleed internally for almost 10 hours … “
And at 2:22 a.m. not long after the surgery, Kira was pronounced dead. Johnson’s word subsequently, fell apart.
“For me, it’s a feeling of loss coupled with being lost — and understanding that there is no way that you can ever fill this void,” Johnson shared with CNN.
“I didn’t have the option of succumbing to my rage,” he went on. “I had to focus on what I knew Kira would want me to do and expect me to do, which was making sure that my boys were OK above all things.”
Back in 2017, he sued Cedars-Sinai for the death of his wife; the case is still pending. Johnson has evolved into an advocate for maternal health and continues to educate the public on the underreported issue of maternal deaths.
In the same year, he additionally launched a nonprofit titled, Kira4Moms, its mission “to advocate for improved maternal health policies and regulations, to educate the public about the impact of maternal mortality in communities … and promote the idea that maternal mortality should be viewed, and discussed as a human rights issue,” the website stated.
Charles’ advocacy helped pass the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act in 2018. The legislation provides funding for both state and local surveillance of maternal deaths, according to Congress.gov. In addition, it provides states with constructive approaches they can take to improve overall maternal safety as well as outcomes, which include specific tools and initiatives.
“When these tools and these protocols are suggestions and not mandate, that’s where the implicit bias and the arbitrary decision-making slips in,” Charles revealed to CNN. “So we’re looking for additional oversight. We’re looking for standards that are mandated and not just suggested for prenatal care. We’re looking at standards for transparency and very importantly accountability.”
Black mothers die in childbirth at three times the rate of white mothers in the U.S. according to the CDC.
“Put another way, a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes,” an NPR report revealed.
Sadly, this is not a new statistic and has been known for decades — and it continues to grow.
Back in 2018, Johnson took the time to reflect on the doctors’ treatment of his wife’s condition just minutes before she died.
“I was thinking if this was life-threatening, they’d be moving with a lot more … urgency and even as I was walking with Kira on the way to the operating room and she’s holding my hand, and saying ‘Baby I’m scared. I’m scared,'” he told reporters in an interview captured by Now This News. “The doctor, his level of concern never elevated.”
Currently, Johnson continues to fight for health care reform in his wife’s name, hoping that progress could save the lives of other mothers just like Kira.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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