News 12 Investigates: Deadly Delivery

Published: Dec. 4, 2017 at 11:42 AM EST
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Monday, Dec. 4, 2017

(News 12 at 6 O'Clock / NBC 26 News at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, and On Your Side found, the highest numbers of pregnant women dying right here in Georgia and South Carolina.

Pregnant women are dying at the rate 32 per 100-thousand births in Georgia which at a rate higher than more than in Iran, Russia or Turkey.

Each picture and flip of the page of a scrapbook brings back a rush of memories.

"He was a little bigger than we anticipated. I always say he is my Christmas miracle or Christmas angel."

Brandi Eversole was 36 weeks pregnant when something went terribly wrong.

"All of a sudden I felt a gush."

It was blood. A lot of blood.

"It's one of those things that time is crucial."

Seven minutes later she arrived at Emmanuel Medical Center.

"By the time he was born they say he was real pale and lost a lot of blood he was breathing fast he was in distress. It was only a matter of a few more minutes and he probably wouldn't had made it and the thing too is it's dangerous for mothers I could have bled to death."

Doctors saved Eversole's life and the life of her son Cayden but she almost became a statistic.

"Georgia has had the number one ranking for maternal mortality for a number of years," said Dr. Chad Ray with Augusta University Medical Center.

Georgia maternal mortality rate is 32 per 100-thousand births nearly double the national average which is about 17 per 100-thousand.

Maternal mortality is the death of a woman while pregnant or within a year of giving birth. Pregnant women are dying in South Carolina at the rate is 25 per 100 thousand births, and like Georgia, higher than the national average.

"I think about this all the time its just health. When you get right down to it if you are unhealthy before you are pregnant and then you becoming pregnant you are simply not going to get better from the standpoint of cardiovascular disease diabetes it just doesn't work that way," said Dr. Ray.

Doctors believe poor health isn't the only reason pregnant women in our area dying. Just like those women, rural hospitals are dying too.

"There is no doubt in my mind we hadn't closed labor and delivery and we hadn't opened a psychiatric unit this hospital would be facing closure without some type of intervention," said Damien Scott with Emmanuel Medical Center.

Shortly after Eversole gave birth, the hospital closed labor and delivery.

"Most go to Statesboro, Vidalia, Dublin, and Augusta. Vidalia is a little closer but Statesboro is a 50-minute drive," Scott said.

Emmanuel Medical Center had fewer than a hundred births a year. The baby business wasn't enough to pay the bills at the rural hospital.

"We are a very rural state so outside of the few major metro areas you find a vast area with limited access," Dr. Ray said.

Women in more than 30 counties in Georgia are without a local OBGYN and in South Carolina, there are twelve counties without an OB.

"If I had to drive an hour and a half for my care and we are talking up to twelve visits for maternity care, maybe I'm not so eager to do that," said Dr. Ray.

Three years ago a law passed which required the department of health in Georgia to start a maternal mortality review committee so doctors and state leaders could find out what's killing pregnant women and how doctors can stop it. Dr. Ray is on that committee.

"While we always considered it a bad problem we really didn't know how big of a problem it is."

The Maternal Mortality Review Committee finished its first review on maternal mortality for the year 2012. The findings show one-third of the deaths occurred while the women were pregnant or within a day of giving birth. Sixty-eight percent of the women who died were African American. The most common reasons for pregnant women dying that year were hemorrhage, hypertension and cardiac arrest.

Eversole and her son are alive today because they were able to quickly get to a hospital which saved her from a deadly delivery.

South Carolina also has a Maternal Mortality Review Committee. Both Georgia and South Carolina are tracking trends to determine how many maternal mortality deaths are avoidable and how to prevent it.