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Doctors working to address maternal mortality rates in Wisconsin

MADISON (WKOW) — Having a baby is one of the happiest moments of a parent’s life, but it can also be one of the most dangerous for some mothers.

In the U.S., 14 of every 100-thousand women die in childbirth, according to the World Health Organization. That rate worsened between 1990 and 2015. It’s lower in Wisconsin, but women are still dying while giving birth.

Erin Backeberg, from Reedsburg, says she’s only here today because her doctors took quick action as she went into labor and faced a life-threatening condition.

“I feel really fortunate that they really worked together and made those decisions, because I don’t know if I would be here had I delivered somewhere that didn’t have those resources available,” she told 27 News.

Backeberg had what seemed like a normal pregnancy. But when she went into labor in May at a Reedsburg hospital, she developed HELLP syndrome, a potentially-deadly condition.

“I don’t think it even registered how serious the situation was,” Backeberg said. “[The doctor said] we needed the baby out now.”

Her doctors decided to send her to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, because the condition was so rare and they wanted her to have the best care possible.

It was frightening for her husband to sit by and watch it happen.

“Honestly, it was kind of a helpless feeling,” said Justin Backeberg. “I didn’t really feel like there was much that I could do but I knew that all the doctors were doing everything that they could really to save Erin.”

Erin and her baby Easton survived, but they aren’t alone.

Maternal morbidity and mortality rates in Wisconsin

State Department of Health Services statistics from 2009-2013 show women have serious health complications during one of every 100 deliveries. The Wisconsin Medical Society found that rate increased 106 percent between 2000 and 2014.

During 2006-2010, there were 5.9 deaths per 100-thousand births in Wisconsin, compared to the U.S. ratio of 16. The rate for black women is five times the rate among white women, higher than the national disparity of 3.2 times the death rate.

Doctors here in Wisconsin are working to address these statistics.

“It is on us, the medical system, to help respond to those problems,” said Dr. Paul Boeder, with SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. “Rather than try and answer away to [the problems], taking them head on, identifying the root causes of them and approaching them from a system perspective is a way to address them.”

Boeder says St. Mary’s is following a national trend based on a California model, focusing on team-based care to properly diagnose and respond to issues during pregnancy, delivery and after birth.

New efforts in Madison

SSM Health is one of half a dozen hospitals in the U.S. involved in a trial study of a new device that can be used to stop a hemorrhage during delivery.

It’s a newer approach to tackle a problem that can be deadly for a mother giving birth.

Boeder hopes it’ll help develop new strategies and advance research on the topic of maternal morbidity and mortality in the future.

“We’re excited about having residents here and doing research that would fit together into a teaching model and we’d learn from it and maybe we can offer something that’s new to the patients,” he told 27 News.

Boeder says it’s all part of a nationwide focus on developing new systems to keep women and their babies healthy.

Governor’s new plans to help women

Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers is also working on new efforts to address pregnancy and post-partum health. His recently-released budget proposal includes a Healthy Women, Healthy Babies measure.

The funding includes $3.18 million for a home visit program for high risk mothers, managed by the Department of Children and Families.

The budget also expands Medicaid eligibility for women after giving birth. DHS will seek a waiver to extend eligibility from 60 days post-partum to one year. That would cost $22.88 million.

Plus, there is a $767-thousand grant to provide maternal and child services to disadvantaged minority populations, in areas where health disparities are the highest.

All are steps, if approved by the Legislature, would help doctors find better outcomes for patients.

Looking to the future

Erin Backeberg and her nine-month-old survived childbirth, thanks to the teamwork from doctors at St. Mary’s. But she says in hindsight, she could have paid closer attention to how she was feeling, to catch her condition sooner.

She hopes other soon-to-be mothers will be advocates for themselves.

“Just speak up and don’t feel like you’re complaining or being a nuisance,” she said. “Your doctor wants to know what’s going on and they can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on.”

Backeberg and her family are just grateful to be here today to share their story.

“This was not what we had planned, but it’s [Easton’s] story and everyone kind of has their story, and whether one is traumatic like ours or super wonderful, they’re all worth it because you get your little babies at the end,” she said.

There is also a statewide organization working to address maternal morbidity and mortality rates in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Association of Perinatal Care’s newest efforts focus on maternal hypertension, an infant feeding project and an initiative to improve outcomes for women impacted by opioids.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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