Nashville couple shares story of rare medical emergency during Black Maternal Health Week

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Nashville couple is sharing their story of a rare emergency during their child’s birth to help raise awareness during Black Maternal Health Week.

“Checkups were fine, vitals were good, and it wasn’t until the last appointment that we had where my blood pressure was a little elevated,” said Kerri Claybrooks.

After two healthy pregnancies, she and her husband Charles didn’t expect such life-threatening challenges for their third.

“After my water broke, then the fluid shot back up to my heart and then I was out at that point so the rest of the story in all honesty for me was second hand because I do not have any memory of anything from that point,” said Kerri.

Ascension St. Thomas Midtown Director for Perinatal Services Dr. Cornelia Graves rushed to the hospital from church.

“I’ve known Kerri since she was a little girl so this was very hard for me,” said Dr. Graves.

She said Kerri experienced a rare emergency called Amniotic Fluid Embolism which cannot be predicted and happens in about one in 80,000 births.

“The interesting thing about Kerri’s case is at St. Thomas Midtown… we have a simulation program that is required for all providers. It just so happened that about a month prior to the event we simulated what happens when a woman has this type of event,” said Dr. Graves.

During the entire ordeal, Charles was right there and said it was emotional watching his wife and baby struggle with their health.

“At that point I’m pretty much freaking out because she’s out and the doctors’ trying to get her back,” Charles recalled. “Somewhere in between that time they did an emergency C-section and they pulled Zoe out and of course, she wasn’t breathing either so they were working on getting her taken care of and Kerri at the same time. At that point, I’m trying not to lose my mind but they [medical staff] kept going and I’m grateful.”

Dr. Graves explained that the life-saving decision was to not move the patient from the room and perform the C-section right there.

“I asked the nurse ‘do you have any steroids on the cart and so I said ‘get it.’ Because we think this is like an allergic reaction to your amniotic fluid. As soon as they gave the steroids her heart began to work again,” said Dr. Graves.

Charles was then going back an forth between two hospitals to check on his wife and newborn.

“She [Kerri] was pretty much out of it and every day it was a minimum of new pints of blood that they had to give her,” said Charles. “Miraculously after about a week, they were able to take her off all the machines and everything in the ICU.”

That’s when Kerri was finally able to meet her newborn baby girl.

“It’s a good thing we talked about names before we went into labor because my husband chose the name at the last minute,” Kerri said.

The new mom struggled with motor skills like walking and said a lot of her memory from the event is gone.

“Even once we got home that was something I struggled with, just being able to not being able to walk and not being able to even understand why didn’t have those same functions,” Kerri said.

She said she was grateful to have her husband by her side.

“We had to basically every day remind her of what was going on, what happened, and things like that,” Charles said.

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation for Black Maternal Health Week, stating “America’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world, and they are especially high among Black mothers, who die from complications related to pregnancy at roughly two to three times the rate of white, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women — regardless of their income or education levels.”

Dr. Graves said it’s important for women to seek out good care.

“For Black women, you might as well deliver in a third world country especially if you’re over the age of 40. I think that often, as women, we look for things like ‘do they have a great looking room, will I get a free gift bag when I leave?’ and I think those things do add to the experience,” said Dr. Graves. “We need to sound the alarm during Black Maternal Health Week of the need for women to seek out good care and make sure they deliver in places that can handle complications, especially given the fact that we are more likely to have these complications than other ethnic groups.”

Dr. Graves said black women also faced challenges with the health disparities that were highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kerri said she learned firsthand the importance of being selective with her healthcare.

“Do your research, know where you’re going,” she said. “That was something we were intentional about.”

Those decisions left this family grateful for the days ahead.

“We are doing great,” she said. “Zoe will be five in about one month. She is doing phenomenal.”

Their two other children have Spring birthdays as well so the couple plans to have a COVID-friendly birthday parade to celebrate all three of them.

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