Preeclampsia, a Silent Killer

Dawn and her husband Kirk were eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. Dawn was six and a half months into her pregnancy, and everything had been going smoothly. She had experienced some unusual swelling the week before, but she was told not to worry about it. In short, she was like most expecting mothers in Pennsylvania, who give birth to nearly 150,000 babies each year.
But that was about to change. When she arrived at her doctor’s for her 30-week checkup, Dawn learned that something was wrong – and that her life and the life of her baby were in danger. Her obstetrician found that her blood pressure was extremely high. Additional testing found she had elevated protein in her urine. This led the doctor to conclude that Dawn had severe preeclampsia and she was immediately admitted to the hospital for observation.
Over the course of the next 24-hours, it became clear to doctors that Dawn and her baby were in danger. She was transported by ambulance to another hospital where she was ad-ministered an emergency C-section. Her baby, delivered 2 ½ months early, weighed just 3 pounds. Following the baby’s birth, Dawn remained at high risk for seizure and stroke and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for continued care. The ongoing effects of preeclampsia were so severe that she was unable to even hold her newborn child until a week after the birth. Dawn remained in intensive care for another three weeks, where she was ad-ministered magnesium sulfate intravenously to help reduce her risk of stroke or seizure. Her daughter was released from the NICU after 30 days.
Today, Dawn and her daughter — now 11 years old — are healthy and doing well. While Dawn can recount the many physical and emotional challenges of dealing with preeclampsia, she is quick to note that she and her daughter are fortunate to have survived their ordeal.
In the weeks and months that followed, Dawn learned that 1 in 12 pregnancies in the United States are impacted by preeclampsia, impacting 300,000 pregnancies each year. 25 percent of those pregnancies reach severe or critical status and preeclampsia is the leading cause of pre-term birth. Worldwide, 76,000 mothers and 500,000 babies are lost each year to preeclampsia. Dawn came to realize that the vast majority of women are not fully aware of the danger of preeclampsia until they are in crisis.Her experience led her to become a key advocate for the Preeclampsia Foundation, where she provides support, guidance, and counsel for women and families in crisis. She also founded the Lehigh Valley Promise Walk for Preeclampsia to raises funds to help provide care and support for women with preeclampsia, as well increase awareness and education. Recent advances in research have made Dawn hopeful for the future of her daughter future and oth-ers with a history of preeclampsia. When I heard Dawn’s story, I immediately made a com-mitment to support Dawn and others in raising awareness of this disorder to help stop pre-ventable death and disability of mothers and their babies. Recently, I worked closely with Dawn and others to introduce a Senate resolution establishing Preeclampsia Awareness Month to increase awareness among both the public and medical professionals. By elimi-nating delays in diagnosis, implementing best known medical practices, and continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of new approaches, we can save lives. A few weeks ago, I joined Dawn and hundreds of others of individuals for the Lehigh Valley Promise Walk. Each individ-ual I met had equally moving stories and possessed Dawn’s same commitment to improving education and understanding of the disorder. The real challenge is that the signs and symp-toms of preeclampsia present themselves in different ways in different women. Some symp-toms resemble “normal” effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body, and some women may ex-perience no visible symptoms at all. In many cases, preeclampsia can only be detected through high blood pressure tests and protein levels in urine. Because early detection saves lives, it is extremely important for women to regularly visit their doctor throughout their pregnancy so these tests can be conducted. And if these tests are not being performed, pregnant women should not hesitate to speak up and request that they be administered. In addition, a proper prenatal diet with vitamins, minerals, and basic food groups is very im-portant. I encourage individuals to visit the Preeclampsia Foundation website at to learn more about this disorder, its signs, and symptoms, as well as learn about how they can support women and families who are battling or dealing with the aftermath of preeclampsia. That knowledge can help save lives.Senator Bob Mensch represents the 24th Senate District of Pennsylvania, which includes por-tions of Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton Counties. By Senator Bob Mensch