A Black Doctor Dies After Giving Birth. Was Implicit Bias to Blame?

It’s been a tragic week for Anthony Wallace, who recently started a GoFundMe Page after his daughter was born via C-section four weeks before the expected due date. Just days after the baby was born, his wife, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, a pediatric chief resident at Indiana University School of Medicine, died after developing symptoms of pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure.

Dr. Wallace’s death highlights a disturbing trend across the country. Studies show black women  in the U.S. are 2.5 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women due to a variety of factors, namely implicit bias and a lack of access to care. Pre-eclampsia is also more common in women of color. It usually leads to high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Women may also experience swelling in their legs, hands, face, or whole body. If the condition develops into eclampsia, women face a higher risk of seizure and stroke.

Let’s honor Dr. Chaniece Wallace by putting an end to this disparity.

A Painful Pregnancy

Anthony Wallace and his wife always wanted a family. As he wrote online, “Chaniece and I were very excited about welcoming our first child Charlotte into the world. We had discussed all of the many possibilities of her bright future and the limitless paths she could follow.”

Charlotte Azaela Wallace was born on October 20th, 2020, weighing just 4 lbs., 5 oz.

Wallace says his wife experienced complications during her third trimester. They were expecting Charlotte on November 20th, but the doctors delivered her early via an emergency C-section. However, that same day, the doctors told Dr. Wallace that she was experiencing symptoms of pre-eclampsia.

The next two days set up a painful fight for her life. Her husband, Anthony stated, “My wife Chaniece had to endure surgery due to complications developing in her body. Three of the main challenges we encountered were a ruptured liver, high blood pressure, and kidneys were not fully functioning.”

Sadly, Dr. Chaniece Wallace passed away on October 22nd, 2020, just two days after her daughter was born.

Now, Anthony has turned to GoFundMe to raise money for him and his young daughter. The campaign has been a major success. He’s already raised $100,000 online, far surpassing his goal of $5,000. The page has also become a place to honor and mourn Dr. Wallace.

As he remembers her online:

“She was a Chief Resident at Indiana University School of Medicine Pediatric Hospitalist with Indiana University Health Physicians and just completed her board exams while interviewing for multiple positions around the country. Chaniece was such a warm soul, welcoming to almost everybody. Not only loved by family and friends but individuals she would encounter in the patient population. She had a special way of being empathetic with her patients and making each one of them feel special.”

As for young Charlotte, Anthony says she is “absolutely beautiful!”  She has been in the NICU since birth, but is doing well.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

Dr. Wallace’s death is a major tragedy, but it’s also a reminder of the risks pregnant women of color face on a daily basis. Studies show eclampsia and pre-eclampsia are 60% more common among black women than white women.

However, the condition can easily be prevented in most cases.

According to the Harvard Medical School, “In parts of the world with more limited medical care, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia cause many women to die during pregnancy. Fortunately, with appropriate prenatal care and monitoring, most women with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia and their babies survive just fine.”

Experts say the issue often comes down to implicit bias.

Black women die in childbirth at 2.5x the rate of white women. Other studies show that black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women over 30 years old are four to five times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women. According to the CDC, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for black women with at least a college degree is 5.2 times that of white women.

These disparities are often due to lack of access to prenatal care, long wait times, and lack of trust between providers and their patients.

Sayida Peprah, a psychologist and doula, says pregnant black women may be dismissed when raising concerns with their primary care physician or OB-GYN, while fathers may be dissuaded from asking questions about the health of the mother and child. Peprah says it often comes down to “unconscious influences around the lack of value of their lives.” 

Pregnant women of color deserve better. For patients that aren’t getting the help they need, experts suggest asking for a different doctor or nurse until the problem is resolved. For providers, it’s about actively combating implicit bias that can worsen patient outcomes and put young families at risk.

Anthony Wallace will have to raise Charlotte on his own now that his wife has passed away. He ends his message online with, “Chaniece, although you are not with us physically, I will always carry you in my heart and share my wonderful memories of you with our daughter Charlotte. I am forever grateful for the five years God gave me with you.”

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