NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Medical training in the Valley looks to prevent childbirth complications

Posted at 11:01 AM, Nov 26, 2019

PHOENIX — Worried about increases in the number of women who die in childbirth, a unique obstetrics training program in the Valley is helping to save those lives.

The Critical Care in Obstetrics Symposium, which is sponsored by Banner University Medical Center, concentrates on worst-case scenarios
for pregnant woman and their babies. Medical teams from around the world come to practice these scenarios on medical mannequins.

"No one dies, but we create enough stress for them that they learn to react kind of in almost a knee-jerk predictable response," said symposium organizer Dr. Michael Foley.

"You have to learn how to work well and how to calm yourself down and try to save the life in front of you," said UA medical fellow Pilar Rainey.

The goal is to standardize and simplify emergency care plans to prevent deaths or near-deaths in pregnant or postpartum women.

MAP: Extra costs, health risks for pregnant women in maternity deserts

About 700 U.S. women die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

Big killers for pregnant and postpartum women include hypertension, eclampsia, and heart issues. They can also experience deadly hemorrhaging, which is heavy bleeding, or sepsis, which is a life-threatening immune system response to an infection.

"Unfortunately, I've seen all of them, but it doesn't mean that I'm comfortable with them because they don't occur frequently," said Dr. Lisa Rimpel, an OB-GYN from Stony Brook, New York.

In fact, the conditions are so rare doctors and nurses may only see them once every few years, depending on how many babies they deliver.

Dr. Foley said a lack of experience and practice can result in negative outcomes in these emergencies. "It's the lack of good judgment. It's the wrong medications at the wrong time. It's not treating as early as we need to do in certain situations," he said.

"We have to practice, and if you don't do it that often, then practicing becomes way more important," said Dr. Shad Deering of Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Foley and his team are teaching for two audiences. They want to help refresh skills for doctors and nurses from metropolitan, well-equipped maternity wards. They also show best-practices to workers in smaller or rural healthcare facilities, so they can make good early choices before transferring patients to facilities with a higher level of care.

RELATED: Arizona at risk for maternity care shortage with maternity deserts

"This course is about receiving patients that are already complex and already having a problem," Dr. Foley said. "Ultimately, it is what we'd really love to do is to prevent those problems from happening in the first place."

Dr. Foley says U.S. women are delaying childbearing and have more chronic illnesses. Both can lead to more complications. He encourages women to work with their primary care doctors to control diabetes, blood pressure, and weight. Getting healthy before pregnancy is good for moms and babies.

ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius continues to look into maternal mortality and healthcare quality in Arizona. Email her at or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.