The death of pregnant YouTube star Nicole Thea highlights a tragic trend affecting women of color

amiller@businessinsider.com (Anna Medaris Miller)
Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman

Crystal Cox/BI Photo

  • London-based YouTube star Nicole Thea died at 8 months pregnant along with her unborn child July 11. 

  • The family said they believe the cause of death was a "massive heart attack." 

  • In the UK, Black women are five times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy and postpartum. 

  • Many factors likely contribute to the disparities, but one OB-GYN is encouraging doctors to "check [their] implicit bias" and women of color to speak up. 

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Nicole Thea, a London-based social media star, died July 11 along with her unborn child at 8 months pregnant.

Thea, who had more than 230,000 Instagram followers and whose YouTube videos could garner more than a million views, had been documenting her pregnancy, sharing what she and her partner were packing in their hospital bag June 28, for example, and writing "I can't wait to meet you little man" on June 29. 

The dancer and accessories designer, who had already named the child Reign, was 24. 

 

While the autopsy report is still pending, Thea's uncle told the Daily Mail the family thinks she died from "a massive heart attack." 

"Nicole was saying that she was struggling to breathe. She was struggling with her chest — she had a pain in her chest," Charles Murray told the Mail. "It is so surreal as she was so young. It is such a shock. It has really, really shaken us all up." 

The tragedy is part of a larger trend: While pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths are rare, women of color are disproportionately susceptible. 

Racial disparities persist in maternal mortality rates 

In the US, Black women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth, or immediately postpartum than white women. In the UK, black women's maternal mortality rates are five times higher than white women.  

Doctors and researchers have pointed to a variety of factors that could help explain the outcomes, including socioeconomic status, access to prenatal treatment, racial bias in the medical system, a culture that doesn't encourage Black women to speak up about their health concerns, and medical complications during pregnancy like pre-eclampsia.  

"To this day, Black people are less likely to get the same treatment in terms of pain medication, they're more likely to wait longer in the ER, they're less likely to be taken seriously — it's a holdover from the days of slavery," Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN, said on TikTok in response to Thea's death. 

She pointed to a study showing that 50% of doctors and residents surveyed falsely believe Black people experience pain differently than white people, leading to inappropriate treatment. 

beyonce pregnant
beyonce pregnant

@Beyonce/Instagram

Celebrities of color have also spoken out about their difficult pregnancy and childbirth experiences. 

Beyonce's preeclampsia, a complication involving high blood pressure and protein in the urine, for one, put her on bed rest for more than a month prior to an emergency C-section. 

Serena Williams also had an emergency C-section, followed by a pulmonary embolism that almost killed her, she wrote for CNN. Both women have emphasized that not many black women, and those in poorer countries, aren't so lucky to receive the kind of life-saving treatment they did. 

"Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth," Williams wrote. 

In her TikTok, Lincoln told healthcare professionals "check your implicit bias" and urged women of color to speak up if they feel they're not getting appropriate care. 

"If this is happening to you, ask to speak to a different nurse, a different doctor, report them, speak up," she said. 

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