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Tragic Loss of AZ State Treasurer's Wife and Newborn Son Brings Home Reality of Maternal Mortality

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The recent deaths of Arizona’s State Treasurer Dean Martin’s wife and baby boy have stunned the Phoenix community, reminding us of the risks of childbirth. Typically, the possibility of death while giving birth is far from a new mother’s mind. At least here in the United States, where we have a relatively low maternal death rate. However, what many people may not realize is that this rate is actually on the rise.

Nearly 600 women in the US die in childbirth each year. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, maternal mortality was at a steady rate of 7 to 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births. According to the CDC, this rate increased to 12 to13 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2004. This rise of maternal deaths could correlate with the fact that more women are having children later in life, as well as the fact that there are more births by C-section which involve more risks.

Doctors don’t like to talk about losing patients, and the risk of dying while giving birth is an especially scary topic that is most often avoided. When Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin publicly announced the death of his wife and newborn son just a couple of hours ago, he did not touch on the cause of their deaths. Instead, he mentioned that what had happened with his wife and son during the birth was a rare occurrence and that expectant women shouldn’t be worried. But with our country’s maternal death rate increasing, it would appear that we should be worried. And talking about it.

The loss of a mother in childbirth is tremendous, potentially impacting multiple generations of a family as well as the surrounding community. No matter what the national statistic is, 600 or fewer, we are still losing too many women. Especially when preventable. If we are willing to talk more about the reality of maternal death and to devote more resources to reviewing each death on a state level, we will be able to turn around the increasing maternal death rate and make motherhood much safer than it is today.

Add a Comment17 Comments

(reply to Anonymous)

This is really fascinating -- thanks so much for joining the conversation and sharing this info! It's good to hear that CA is reviewing these deaths. Hopefully something can be done to turn this horrible stat around.

June 1, 2009 - 2:10pm

This was a tragic event—possibly one that couldn't have been prevented and one that had little to do with Kerry Martin's age. However, the fact that the US maternal death rate has been rising since 1982 should prompt us to educate ourselves—especially since the CDC itself admits to a rate of underreporting and misclassification of maternal deaths that is shocking (1/2 to 2/3 of the actual deaths may not be reported). The reasons are many, but they stem from Congress never having mandated and funded the establishment of a system for accurate reporting. Death certificate data alone is notoriously poor, and it's worse here than in most countries of comparable wealth since our US Standard Death Certificate is not used in every state. Some states still neglect to ask whether a deceased woman had been pregnant in the year prior to her death. There is no penalty for false reporting (which does happen sometimes).

I've been collecting women's names for 12 years (US maternal deaths since 1982)for The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project. The number of unpreventible deaths is 2-3 per 100,000 births. The 2006 rate of 13.3/100,000 is very high, considering that in 1982, our rate was 7.5/100,000. Yes, mothers tend to be older now than in the early 80s, but let's not forget what has happened to our c-section rate (it's still major abdominal surgery), our induction rate (sky-high now compared with 9% or so in the 80s), the number of multiple births by assisted reproductive technologies, and poor nutrition.

It will be impossible to reduce our too-high maternal death rate unless we first establish a system for accurate and complete counting. The FAA is not allowed to investigate only 1/3 of plane crashes. Then comes review and analysis within a system that is impartial and not connected to the institutions where deaths take place. The UK's system of Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths www.cemach.org.uk should be our model.

One thing we should do right away is to force insurance companies to pay for home visits to new mothers after hospital discharge. I've heard of several new mothers just released from hospital who died at home (sometimes their babies, too) because they didn't get even one home visit. How is a post-c-section single mom supposed to know when she's in trouble? I don't know of any other country that neglects new mothers after they give birth to the extent we do here. Google Virginia Njoroge and Tameka McFarquhar and Galit Schiller, and you'll know what I mean.

May 29, 2009 - 3:02pm

Here's an update on the Martin family's story (below). I'm curious to know whether or not their obstetrician knew about her tumor beforehand.

by Casey Newton - May. 29, 2009 01:20 PM
The Arizona Republic

The wife of State Treasurer Dean Martin died after childbirth due to a ruptured adenoma of the liver, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said Friday.

Kerry Martin, 34, died on Monday after the rupture of her adenoma, a rare benign tumor that occurs mostly in women of childbearing age, according to eMedicine.com. The Martins' son, Austin Michael Martin, died late Wednesday after being in critical condition since his birth at 7:31 p.m. Monday.

The annual occurrence of the liver tumor, known as hepatocellular adenoma, is about one in 1 million people, according to eMedicine. The tumors are often asymptomatic.

Women with known adenoma of the liver are discouraged from getting pregnant due to the high risk of rupture and death.

During a news conference Thursday, Martin said he would release more information about the causes in the deaths of his wife and their child, but wanted to focus on planning memorial services. Funeral services are pending, as is the establishment of a memorial fund to promote causes important to Kerry.

The treasurer emphasized that the circumstances leading to his wife's death were extraordinary, saying that most expectant mothers should not be overly concerned about their own pregnancies.

"I know many expectant mothers are probably very worried right now. I know Kerry would have been," Martin said Thursday. "But I want you to know that the events that led to Kerry's death were rare, and Kerry would not want you to worry."

The Martins had been married for 13 years. Austin was their first child.

May 29, 2009 - 2:22pm
EmpowHER Guest

Kerry's death had nothing to do with childbirth, but a ruptured tumor. Dean's statement that expectant mothers should not worry, based on what happened to her in a set of rare circumstances, is correct. Considering the nature and sadness of what has happened to him, the topic of why maternal death rates have been increasing should be tabled for at least a few days out of respect, especially since giving birth did not take her life.

May 29, 2009 - 7:50am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Actually, there has been no public announcement of whether or not the tumor ruptured because of the pregnancy/childbirth. Women with this type of tumor are often advised not to get pregnant because of the risk.

I don't believe this issue should be "tabled" for a few days or for a few hours. Women are dying unnecessarily in childbirth, and that's a fact that we need to talk about. If it takes a relatively well-known woman's death to get us talking, then so be it.

May 29, 2009 - 4:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

This sounds like something a college Freshman would write in an introductory English composition class- including incomplete sentences. Expository writing is only useful if real information is imparted. Here, we are offered only a single statistic as it changed through time. I can think of a million other relevant ideas to touch on that would not only facilitate dialog, but would also help inform the public, As for your grammar, well, really, if you are going to blog, you should have higher standards.

May 28, 2009 - 11:33pm
(reply to Anonymous)

You are absolutely right. There are quite a number of related topics that need to be addressed ... racial disparity probably being the most significant factor underlying the (rising) maternal death rate in the US. Not to mention the fact that compared globally, the US is ranked 41st out of 171 countries, with even some developing countries having a much lower maternal death rate. That's appalling. And I'd like to tackle these issues in subsequent articles -- the reason I couldn't hit on all of them in this piece has to do with space.

Regarding writing style, most newspapers publish writing that is at a 5th to 7th grade level. But critiquing writing style isn't at all helpful in this space. (You're welcome to sign up, become a member of EmpowHer, and send me a private message if you'd like to discuss it further.) What's way more important and helpful to our EmpowHer audience is discussing health issues that are impacting women and their families.

May 29, 2009 - 10:42am
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