Leah Bahrencu was the picture of health when she learned that she and husband Vlad were expecting twins. As a group fitness instructor and nutrition coach, she prioritized her heart health and regularly exercised during pregnancy. So when her doctor told her she had high blood pressure at her 30-week prenatal check-up, Leah felt shocked.
“I normally have low blood pressure, so the reading was high for me,” said Leah. Thankfully, her doctor decided to monitor her closely. Over the next few weeks, she began to experience shortness of breath, severe swelling, and indigestion. At 34 weeks pregnant, matters took a turn for the worse.
“My blood pressure was elevated and blood work showed my liver was failing,” said Leah. She had developed HELLP syndrome, a rare pregnancy complication related to preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) that affects the liver, red blood cells, and platelets. Her only option was to deliver her twin babies six weeks early, and hope that her body would begin to heal.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse. While her twins were whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Leah fought for her life.
“Over a matter of days, my organs shut down and I fought for my life,” said Leah. She would then face months of rehabilitation and physical therapy, while also taking care of two newborns. The whole experience was incredibly traumatic, and looking for support, she found the Preeclampsia Foundation, a US-based non-profit for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
Leah joined MoMMA’s Voices (www.mommasvoices.org), a maternal health patient advocacy coalition and program of the Preeclampsia Foundation, established in 2018 and comprised of over 20 maternal health organizations, who work to amplify the voices of those who have experienced pregnancy and childbirth complications or loss.
MoMMA’s Voices’ goal is to equip and activate patients and family members as partners with healthcare providers and researchers who are working to improve maternal health outcomes. Despite having no risk factors, Leah experienced extreme complications during pregnancy. Thankfully, she and her babies made it safely through their experience – but that’s not the case for all women in the United States.
“In 2021, we lost 1200 mothers in the US to pregnancy-related causes, which is more than most every other country in the developed world,” said MoMMA’s Voices Program Director Nicole Purnell. “We know that the only way to decrease those numbers is to help mommas to be heard and integrated into improving how pregnancy and postpartum care is provided in the US.”
Leah wanted to share her experience to raise awareness of preeclampsia and to the Foundation’s important mission to save the lives of moms and babies. She decided to participate in a specialized training program provided by MoMMA’s Voices called the Patient Family Partner certification.
Getting Trained to Create Maternal Health Change
The Patient Family Partner (PFP) training program is a set of online, self-paced training modules that help women and family members who have gone through a difficult pregnancy experience to become advocates. The training includes content on advocate readiness, how to tell your story, and building your resume as a trained advocate. Any woman who has experienced a complication like high blood pressure or preeclampsia, hemorrhage, premature delivery, placenta accreta, AFE, maternal mental health disorders like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, or other issues is welcome to participate in the training.
Once a person completes the PFP training, they are matched together with opportunities to serve as patient representatives on maternal health quality improvement initiatives.
“Texas is leading the way for groundbreaking healthcare practices in prenatal care, working hard to ensure that hundreds of hospitals provide top-of-the line treatments,” said Purnell. “But we need more people joining us and sharing their lived experience to truly implement change.”
The MoMMA’s Voices team recently partnered with Texas state leadership to implement a large-scale program focused on improving outcomes due to hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Over the next year, the program will have dozens of opportunities to join advisory councils and work with quality assurance professionals on Texas-focused initiative.
How You Can Help
Are you a Texas mom who has faced pregnancy-related issues such as high blood pressure, infection, and excessive bleeding? You are not alone. The MoMMA’s Voices program would love to hear from YOU! Learn more at https://www.mommasvoices.org/TexasPreeclampsia or by contacting them via email or social media.