On May 3, 2023, news outlets reported that U.S. Olympic sprinter and three-time medalist Tori Bowie died suddenly at the age of 32 in her Florida home, but a cause of death was not released until now. Tragically, autopsy reports now show that Bowie passed away from complications due to childbirth.
NBC reported that the Orange County, Florida sheriff’s office responded to a well-being check in early May after there was concern of Bowie not being heard from for a number of days. That’s where they found Bowie with signs of the prenatal medical emergency eclampsia and respiratory distress.
It is unclear whether friends and loved ones knew that Bowie was pregnant or not, but the autopsy estimate that she was about eight months along and in the middle of labor at the time of her passing.
The Black maternal mortality statistics are staggering when comparing Black to white birthing people, and the leading cause of Black maternal death is pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum-related high blood pressure condition. Black women are 5 times more likely than white women to die from either this or another cardiovascular condition during or soon after birth.
Pre-eclampsia is, as the name implies, a precursor to the serious condition eclampsia, which took Mississippi native Tori Bowie’s life.
What is eclampsia?
Eclampsia occurs either before, during, or after birth, when seizures or a coma follow pre-eclampsia, which may or may not be properly diagnosed, according to the National Library of Medicine. The condition could happen to someone who is completely healthy before pregnancy, as Bowie appeared to be. Pre-eclampsia can also go untreated throughout pregnancy, particularly if someone does not have access to routine, comprehensive prenatal care, or has their symptoms dismissed by medical professionals.
A diagnosis of pre-eclampsia does not mean that eclampsia will occur, but risk could be exacerbated with genetics, diet, or even neurological conditions. One study claims that pre-eclampsia could be associated with anxiety and depression—if there is already stress on the body, blood pressure elevation can make that worse, especially for people living in Black bodies.
Other risk factors for pre-eclampsia that could then develop into eclampsia if untreated include being over 35, having diabetes or high blood pressure to begin with, carrying multiples, being a teen, having autoimmune disorders, or having a family history of pre-eclampsia, the National Library of Medicine research states.
Some warning signs of pre-eclampsia that can come before seizures are headaches, blurred vision, stomach pains or nausea, or swelling in the face or extremities. If these pre-eclampsia symptoms are not treated correctly, with either blood pressure medication to stabilize blood pressure, anti-seizure medications, or early delivery as to not put more stress on the pregnancy, pre-eclampsia can progress to eclampsia.
Eclampsia signs include decreased alertness and little to no movement of the baby due to low blood supply to the placenta, along with severe abdominal pain, headache, and bleeding, but the pre-eclampsia symptoms typically come first. If you notice any of these signs during pregnancy, you or your loved one should immediately seek emergency medical care.
It’s possible that Bowie was alone when her eclampsia symptoms began and was unable to seek medical assistance. As we mourn Bowie’s death along with her loved ones, the Olympic and running communities, and people all over the world, we also acknowledge that there needs to be more legislation, medical, and social support that can better prevent Black maternal mortality.
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