Overland Park mom educating others to help lower maternal mortality in the US

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — This week, FOX4 told you about a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader who died after giving birth.

Cases like hers highlight the importance of combatting the rise of maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

Heather Townsend is a two-time survivor of pregnancy complications. Now, she works for Creche Innovations, educating and advocating for pregnant women in hospitals.

“Our goal is to educate, educate, educate and put resources, statistics, information into the hands of clinicians across the country to help lower America’s maternal mortality crisis,” Townsend said. “Because right now, America is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth in and there’s not excuse for that.”

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Townsend is the vice president of clinical education and healthcare design at Creche Innovatiosn, a medical device company.

They focus on ensuring hospitals have right equipment to handle obstetrical emergencies. One way they’re working to make that happen, a piece of medical equipment called “the Rapid Response Unit” or RRU.

“So they’re able to catch something before it spirals out of control,” Townsend said.

They also train nearly 10,000 clinicians across the country a year. Classes cover maternal bleeding, delays in treatment and recognizing and addressing implicit racial bias in healthcare.

“Right now, the state of Kansas had the highest rate of Black maternal mortality rate in the first 42 days after birth in the nation,” Dr. Sharla Smith said.

Smith is the founder and director of the Kansas Birth Equity Network at KU Medical Center. She said Black women in Kansas and Missouri are two to three times more likely to die of child related conditions than white women.

She believes one way to create change is increasing representation among Black and Brown people in the medical field.

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“We could create pathways programs to increase representation of medical professionals,” Smith said. “We can also do what we call team births which is bring in additional specialties to help us in that birthing process.”

Smith also believes in a process called Team Birth. It’s a strategy designed to improve communication, set a birthing plan with a good support system, and educate and empower women to speak up to advocate for themselves.

Smith and Townsend encourage mothers to be their own advocate.

Townsend says they plan to offer an online class to parents sometime in the next year.

The Center for Disease Control says in 2021, more than 1,200 women died of maternal causes in our country compared with 861 in 2020 and nearly 800 in 2019.

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“In every other developed nation, their maternal mortality and morbidity rates are decreasing,” Townsend said. “Here in the United States, ours continues to rise.”

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