How disproportionate rates of pregnancy-related death is a public health crisis in the black community

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria-born Madison Duncan is now living her purpose as a nurse at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

She was inspired by her mother, Roxanna Duncan, a nurse at a hospital in Peoria. Madison said her mom’s legacy still lingers.

“I really wanted to be just like her, so that’s what motivated me with the nursing,” Madison said.

“I just heard great things about my mom like, ‘that smile just brightened up the room.’
Just seeing old nurses she worked with. I just had one nurse told me like, ‘oh my heart is just so warm seeing you, it just reminded me of her,’ so I see she made that impact on a lot of people.”

Madison, grasping tight to stories she’d heard about her mom growing up, coped with the fact that she’ll never again experience her love.

Madison’s date of birth was the day her mom died.

Roxanna’s father, Chris Duncan, says on Sept. 30, 1996, he was angry with himself. While he was working, his daughter was in a hospital bed, clinging to life.

“I got a call at work that she’s bleeding out, I need to get back to the hospital,” Chris said.

I remember my grandma telling me she remembered my mom having her nose bleeding and blood coming out the ears and that’s when everything changed,” Madison said.

Roxanna’s family says she was 26 and healthy. Her death caught them off guard.

“She had no looks of any illness that we were aware of, so when she comes into the hospital alive to have a baby, I don’t anticipate 12 hours later she’s going to be dead,” Chris said.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, approximately 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications in the United States annually. CDC data shows black women are three-to-four times more likely to die during labor than white women.

“There’s a lot of disparity when you compare the rate of chronic diseases among black women compared to their non-black counterparts,” said Dr. Rahmat Na’Allah with UnityPoint Methodist Family Physician — Obstetrics and Women’s Health

“Some of the stories that we have seen, women present to the emergency room during pregnancy or after childbirth with pain and doctors looking at them as if they are just seeking pain medications, rather than looking at them as maybe this pain is real.”

Central Illinois doctors are also monitoring the stats.

“When we see that the rate of deaths among Black women is four times–in the state of Illinois it’s actually six times compared to white women, so that is horrible,” said Na’Allah

Other health experts, like Ana Langer, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says this is a public health and human rights emergency because estimates show a significant portion of these deaths could’ve been prevented.

Working her way up the medical ladder, Madison says she thinks listening to patients’ concerns is key.

“I feel like we know what’s going on with our body the most and versus doctors kind of act off what the book says and not just listening to that patient because just listening to that patient, you’ll be able to help them in a heartbeat,” Madison said.

“The medical school curriculum, the residents that we’re teaching that we have and even physicians having continued medical education about diversity and inclusion, cultural competency, implicit bias for us to understand those biases that we have and how to provide competent care,” Na’Allah said.

Madison, giving patients the care she says she wishes her mom received, carries a reminder with her every day.

“As long as you’re in my hands, then not on my watch. I’m doing anything I can to make sure that you are safe,” Madison said.

The Duncan family acknowledges the gaping hole in their hearts, but they’re certain Roxanna’s death prepared Madison for her destiny.

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