Pregnant 26-year-old's death sheds light on health care system that fails Black mothers

Black women die at a rate three times higher than white women when giving birth.
/ Source: TODAY
By Alyssa Newcomb

It was a day Sha-Asia Washington had looked forward to for the last nine months.

The Brooklyn mother-to-be posed for a photo from her bed at Woodhull Medical Center in New York on July 2. Her face mask was pulled down to her chin so the camera could capture her joyful smile.

Washington, 26, was a few days past her due date when went to the hospital for a routine stress test. After some observation, doctors noticed her blood pressure was high and gave Washington a drug to induce labor. She was asked if she wanted an epidural and after some hesitation, according to her family, she agreed.

Her boyfriend, Juwan Lopez, was on FaceTime with his mother, Desiree Williams, when the situation took a turn for the worse.

"The next thing you know he’s waiting there and they start running her down the hallway to the operating room,” Williams told Rolling Stone. "He’s just screaming, ‘What happened? What happened?’ And nobody’s answering. Then somebody said the baby’s heart rate started dropping."

Washington went into cardiac arrest while doctors delivered baby via c-section. Washington was pronounced dead after doctors spent 45 minutes trying to save her with CPR. Her newborn daughter, Khloe, was healthy.

Washington's death is shedding light on the racial disparities Black women face when giving birth.

In 2018, 658 women died of maternal causes in the U.S. A recent study showed Black women had a death rate of 40.8 per 100,000 births, three times higher than the rate of white women. American Indian and Native Alaskan women had the next highest rate at 29.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, more than double the rate in white women.

Experts have cited several reasons for the disparities, including systemic and institutional racism within the healthcare system, underlying health conditions more common in Black mothers and access to prenatal care.

Washington's family is now asking for justice. A GoFundMe page has now raised more than $88,000 to help with funeral costs and to support Lopez, who is now raising Khloe as a single father.

"WOODHULL HOSPITAL KILLED SHAASIA GIVING HER A EPIDURAL PLEASE HELP US GET JUSTICE," said a description on the fundraiser page.

It also comes three months after Amber Rose Isaac, 26, died at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx after she tweeted her concerns about the care she had been getting from the hospital.

Amy Schumer is also using her platform to speak out about the cases.

"We need to wake up and do better every day," she wrote, alongside gorgeous pregnancy photos Washington and Lopez took together as they eagerly awaited the birth of Khloe.

Washington's family also wants to raise awareness about what happened to her and the other Black women who died in childbirth. Last Thursday, they gathered outside Woodhull Medical Center, where one life was cut short and another had just started, to demand justice. They were joined by friends and a group of New York City doulas.

"She just started her family. Just got her own apartment to be on her own," Washington's future sister-in-law, Jasmin Lopez wrote on the fundraiser page. "If you know Sha-Asia she wanted to be a mom and she was gonna be an amazing one."