Behind the Headline: Marie McCausland

Four days after Marie McCausland gave birth to her first child, the hospital sent her and her husband home with their new baby boy. Hours later, she felt awful: severe chest pain, a splitting headache and spiking blood pressure. When she laid down to rest, the symptoms got worse. “I just had this feeling like, ‘If I go to sleep, I’m not going to wake up,’” says McCausland.

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The hospital’s discharge materials said nothing about her symptoms, but McCausland remembered the ProPublica/NPR story she’d read one week earlier about Lauren Bloomstein, who died soon after childbirth from preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that only occurs in pregnancy or postpartum. Recognizing Bloomstein’s symptoms in herself, McCausland and her husband packed up their four-day-old baby and rushed to the closest emergency room in Cleveland.

The first ER doctor she saw tried sending her back home with blood pressure meds, even as her face had become so bloated she barely recognized herself. But McCausland stood her ground. “I said, ‘I’m not leaving here with this high blood pressure. I really think it’s preeclampsia.’” McCausand waited in the ER for another seven hours before the doctor consulted with an obstetrician at another hospital — who immediately registered her symptoms as severe preeclampsia and directed proper treatment.

“ProPublica’s reporting literally saved my life, and it’s changed the course of my life,” said McCausland, who had spent the better part of her graduate career working to become an HIV researcher. “Now I’m trying to figure out how to get into maternal health advocacy as a career.”

She’s off to a good start: A few months after her near-death experience, she contacted the hospital’s Chief of System Quality for Obstetrics, pushing them to improve its protocol. The hospital updated its discharge papers to include a list of potentially dangerous postpartum symptoms, so new mothers now know what conditions to look out for.

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