September 20, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers hospital spreads awareness for pregnancy-related death


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Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

When his wife died days after giving birth, Rutgers alumnus Ryan Hansen started the Tara Hansen Foundation in 2012 — working with the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to increase awareness for pregnancy-related deaths. 


The United States has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, yet most women are not fully aware of the potential dangers of going into labor.

Tara Hansen, who gave birth to her son Brandon in 2011, went into labor feeling the same way. 

She had a healthy pregnancy and textbook birth — but after, she told her husband Ryan Hansen that “her body didn’t feel right,” according to Rutgers Today.

Doctors dismissed concerns, considering her a healthy postpartum patient, and sent her home.

She died six days later from an infection that occurred during birth.

“Tara was the only person who knew something was wrong, and her complaints just kept falling on deaf ears,” Ryan Hansen said to Rutgers Today. “Everyone assumed that the pain she described was to be expected because she just had a baby.”

Over the last few decades, the pregnancy-related mortality rates in the United States have been steadily increasing, from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live deaths in 1987 to 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live deaths in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statistics show racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality — for every 100,000 births by white women, an average of 12.7 women die, while 43.5 black women die during live births for the same number of births during 2011-13.

With these numbers in mind, Ryan Hansen, a Rutgers alumnus, created the Tara Hansen Foundation in 2012 and approached the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) for a partnership, according to Rutgers Today. 

His mother, Patricia Hansen, is the director of Communications and Public Affairs at RWJMS.

The partnership between the two led to the “Stop. Look. Listen!” campaign, with goals to “increase public and professional awareness of pregnancy-related deaths, to empower women to report pregnancy-related medical issues and to increase awareness and responsiveness among health care practitioners,” according to Rutgers Today.

Inspired by the campaign, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-N.J.) sponsored legislation — signed into law in May — that established Jan. 23 as Maternal Health Awareness Day.

“Pregnancy is considered a happy time in a woman’s life, and families don’t want to think about anything negative, like hypertension or diabetes,” said Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women’s Health Institute at RWJMS. “Our goal is to empower women and families to advocate if they feel something is wrong and to understand that no question about the mother-to-be or new mom’s health is inconsequential.”

Itchy skin can be an indicator of a liver or gall bladder problem caused by the pregnancy, she told Rutgers Today. 

“With ‘Stop. Look. Listen!’ clinicians need to stop whatever they are doing, look at the woman and conduct a full medical evaluation and, of course, listen carefully to what she and her family are saying about her concerns and how she is feeling,” she said.

Between 2009 and 2013, the New Jersey Maternal Mortality Review committee found that of 225 maternal deaths, 34.7 percent were pregnancy-related, according to Rutgers Today. 

Approximately 50 percent of those deaths occurred more than 43 days after birth, caused by issues such as cardiac disease, embolism, septic shock, sepsis and cerebral hemorrhage, according to Rutgers Today.

“We found that women suffer from pregnancy-related health issues during or just after delivery, such as cardiovascular diseases, blood clots, pneumonia and stroke, which ultimately resulted in their death,” said Joseph Apuzzio, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a member of the committee.

Many of those women had no prior health issues, he said.

The “Stop. Look. Listen!” campaign seeks to educate health care providers, ranging from OB-GYNs to nurses and certified nurse midwives — as well as family members and emergency room physicians — to “be the first to recognize something might be wrong with a woman who has just given birth,” Apuzzio said. 

“It’s frightening that most people in the United States do not consider a healthy, postpartum woman at risk for death since we are in a developed country,” Ryan Hansen said. “This day of awareness shows that Tara’s death has meaning — to save other women’s lives.”


Alexandra DeMatos

Alexandra DeMatos is a correspondent @ The Daily Targum. She is a senior, majoring in journalism and media studies. Follow her on Twitter @DeMatosA for more. 


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