LOS ANGELES, CA (CNN) — After his wife died giving birth to their baby boy, a father of two began research into the “maternal mortality crisis” in the United States, the only developed country with a rising death rate for pregnant or new mothers. He is now pushing for policy changes and awareness.
Kira Johnson’s husband, Charles Johnson, hasn’t stopped remembering the birth of his youngest son, 3-year-old Langston, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It was also the night that led to his wife’s death.
Charles Johnson says doctors told them Langston’s birth would be a routine Caesarean section, but soon, he started noticing issues.
“I can see the Foley catheter coming from Kira’s bedside begin to turn pink with blood,” Charles Johnson said. “I just held her by her hands and said, ‘Please, look, my wife isn’t doing well.’ This woman looked me directly in my eyes and said, ‘Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.’”
As critical minutes turned into hours, Charles Johnson says he was continually ignored by the staff, as his wife’s health continued to suffer.
“When they took Kira back to surgery and he opened her up, there were 3 and a half liters of blood in her abdomen from where she’d been allowed to bleed internally for almost 10 hours. Her heart stopped immediately,” Charles Johnson said.
Charles Johnson is now suing the hospital for his wife’s death. With the case pending, Cedars-Sinai said in a statement it could not respond directly because of privacy laws but that “any situation where there are concerns about a patient’s medical care” is thoroughly investigated.
Kira Johnson was a successful entrepreneur who spoke five languages. She could fly planes and skydive and seemed invincible to her family, which is why her death is so much harder to understand. In the wake of it, her husband began research into maternal mortality and says the U.S. is in the midst of a “crisis.”
Approximately 700 women in the U.S. die in childbirth every year. It is the only developed country with a rising death rate for pregnant or new mothers. For black women, like Kira Johnson, the risk of death is even higher.
Globally, more mothers die in childbirth in America than in Iran, Turkey or Kazakhstan.
“We are in the midst of a maternal mortality crisis that isn’t just shameful for American standards. It’s shameful on a global scale,” Charles Johnson said.
The charity Every Mother Counts, which was founded by supermodel Christy Turlington, says many of the deaths in the U.S. are because of an unequal healthcare system and systemic racism.
Public health experts warn this crisis is not just affecting poor or sick mothers but also healthy, college-educated black women.
“A well-educated African American woman with more than a high school education has a five-fold risk of death compared to a white woman with less than a high school education,” said Wander Barfield, director of the Division of Reproductive Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now part of an unnecessarily large number of Americans who have lost partners in childbirth, Charles Johnson is pushing for policy changes, raising awareness and trying to hold doctors and hospitals accountable.
“There is a failure and disconnect for the people who are responsible for the lives of these precious women and babies to see them and value them in the same way they would their daughters, their mothers, their sisters,” he said.
Charles Johnson is also raising his sons and teaching them about their mother.
“If I can simply do something to make sure I can send other mothers home with their precious babies, then, it’s all worth it,” he said. “What I try and do is wake up every day and make Mommy proud.”