Commonsense initiative aims to reduce maternal mortality among Black women
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Black women are nearly three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes. A hospital in Boston hopes to change that by helping patients track their blood pressure at home. From member station WBUR in Boston, Priyanka Dayal McCluskey reports.
PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY, BYLINE: With both feet flat on the floor, Kennise Nevers settles into a sofa in her living room. She peels open a blood pressure cuff and straps it around her arm.
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MCCLUSKEY: She gets her reading in about a minute.
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KENNISE NEVERS: It's perfect.
MCCLUSKEY: This blood pressure cuff is high tech. Like a cellphone texting a message, Nevers' cuff sends information straight to her electronic health record, where her nurse, Megan O'Brien, can see the numbers 20 miles away at Boston Medical Center.
MEGAN O'BRIEN: So the first thing I do every morning is look at all of the high readings that have come in since the night before.
MCCLUSKEY: High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it can rise to dangerous levels without symptoms, and it can lead to serious problems during pregnancy. If O'Brien sees a concerning blood pressure reading, she follows up. Close monitoring can help doctors and nurses step in before a patient is in danger.
O'BRIEN: We're intervening so much quicker in these potential problems that, you know, could be happening at home - stroke, heart attack, seizure. So it's really about catching those as fast as possible.
MCCLUSKEY: This effort at Boston Medical Center has another goal - to reduce the stark racial disparities in maternal health. Dr. Tina Yarrington is the hospital's director of maternal fetal medicine. She has seen a lot of pregnancies that didn't go well, and the problems often started with high blood pressure, or hypertension.
TINA YARRINGTON: It's the root cause for many, many maternal health inequities. People who are marginalized by structural racism - people who are Black, African American, Latina, Hispanic - suffer higher levels of hypertension and higher levels of complications when that hypertension strikes.
MCCLUSKEY: When blood pressure rises suddenly in pregnancy, it's called preeclampsia. Yarrington says this condition affects about 14% of the hospital's white patients.
YARRINGTON: But in our Black and African American population, it's closer to 18%.
MCCLUSKEY: Dr. Rose Molina is an OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She studies maternal health disparities, and she's hopeful.
ROSE MOLINA: I think that's one of the most exciting things about this is that it does have the potential to reduce inequities because it brings care home.
MCCLUSKEY: Early results are promising. Kennise Nevers was eight months pregnant and cooking for a big family dinner one evening last October when her blood pressure suddenly spiked.
NEVERS: We were actually getting ready to play cards, and I was like, oh, let me just check my blood pressure before I play. And, yep, night ended pretty quick.
MCCLUSKEY: Nevers went to the hospital. And the next day, doctors induced labor. Her baby, AJ, was born three weeks early, but strong and healthy.
NEVERS: Hey. Hi.
MCCLUSKEY: Nevers says she's grateful that doctors and nurses watched her so closely during pregnancy and after.
NEVERS: I mean, of course you're always going to worry. It's pregnancy. Things change all the time. But it eased some of my worry.
MCCLUSKEY: Nevers made it past the high-risk postpartum days without developing a complication. But she has chronic hypertension, so she still keeps her blood pressure cuff handy.
For NPR News, I'm Priyanka Dayal McCluskey in Boston.
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