By Erin K Costello
As advocates in the pro-science/pro-vax community on Facebook, many of us often see or hear of a situation that reminds us exactly what the harm is in alternative medicine. One of the latest trends to gain popularity is the refusal to seek medical care, either in part or in full, while pregnant. Some women want no intervention at all, some insist only on holistic care, and some will pick and choose which mainstream options they will allow. The following story is about what can go wrong when routine medical care is absent, even if done so by the provider. Sadly, this comes to us from one of our own readers. Thankfully no one was killed throughout this ordeal, though I can not say that no one was harmed.
We have all had those moments when we knew to listen to our own bodies, regardless of what medical professionals had told us at the time. Sometimes these intuitions can be wrong or over reactive rather, other times they are exactly right. In Kristy Kallander’s case her intuition turned out to be life saving.
As any parent can attest to, we are largely clueless during our first pregnancy, and we rely heavily on the advice of our medical professionals. We trust their guidence when we ask them questions, and we have A LOT of questions. We trust they will accurately advise us on things we should or shouldn’t do when it comes to our health, and the health of our baby. This is largely true for any first time mom, but especially true with a younger first time mom like Kristy, who was 20 years old at the time.
During Kristy’s first pregnancy she was residing in Anchorage, Alaska with the baby’s father. Because of the father’s heritage, Alaska Native, Kristy was given very affordable pregnancy care at Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). At the time ANMC was more representative of traditional medicine than it was of modern medicine. Like most prenatal clinics they began seeing Kristy once a month, and then once a week after 35 weeks. However, unlike most clinics, they never offered her a glucose test, blood work, or other lab work. She does not remember if they ever took her blood pressure, but if they had taken her blood pressure the results were never discussed with Kristy. According to Kristy the clinic also routinely advised to avoid any over the counter medication, even Tylenol, because they believed everything crossed the placenta and would negatively affect the baby. Instead, they would suggest more natural or alternative remedies. During her pregnancy Kristy had only seen a variety of clinicians for each appointment. She had seen an ANP (Advanced Nurse Practitioner), a PA (Physician’s Assistant), and a tribal cultural/spiritual midwife. She had been given an initial 12-week ultrasound to verify the age of the fetus, but wasn’t offered another ultrasound until she was about 7 months along, when she called the clinic with some concerns. This was also the only time she would see a doctor, something that almost proved disastrous.
When Kristy seen a doctor for the first time, and was given another ultrasound at about 7 months, it was because she had contacted the clinic and complained how she was feeling less movement than usual from the baby. Upon hearing this was when the clinic decided to perform another ultrasound. Once the ultrasound was completed, the doctor then informed Kristy of some horrific news. The doctor told her the baby was missing a large chunk of brain at the base of her skull. The doctor went on to say the baby, Kristy’s oldest daughter, would have no motor functions for arm and leg movement, would never be able to walk or talk, and would likely be a vegetable if she was able to breathe on her own. The clinic then offered to schedule an appointment for Kristy to terminate her pregnancy. This diagnosis was determined by the doctor after only one ultrasound and without any kind of secondary test to support their conclusion. Had they sought a secondary test to confirm this, they might’ve learned the initial diagnosis was wrong. Since Kristy and her husband had yet to realize this was a misdiagnosis, they discussed how to best handle this horrific news. Luckily, she and her husband applied some common sense and asked “how is she kicking and having wars with me over my rib cage and moving around like an alien in my belly and pushing back against our hands if she has only spasms with no purposeful movement?” They also discussed the possibility the doctor could be incorrect and decided “if she does have physical challenges we will address them at birth.” Thankfully they chose to keep the pregnancy, but they wouldn’t yet learn until after the baby was born just how amazing this decision would come to be. Yet sadly, as horrible as this situation could’ve turned out, Kristy’s nightmare wasn’t quite over.
One night, when Kristy was about 38 weeks in to her pregnancy, she suddenly did not feel right. She felt more swollen than usual with her pregnancy, and she began to see white spots in her vision as she looked around the room. These white spots then turned into larger dark spots on her vision, as though she were going blind. The clinic at ANMC was closed. She knew something was very wrong though and could not wait until it re-opened. She then decided to go to the emergency room located at Providence Alaska Medical Center since this was the closest E.R with a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). The hospital for ANMC did not have a NICU at the time. It wasn’t long after arriving when Kristy was told by staff she had to either deliver her daughter right away, or both she and her daughter would likely die. She was diagnosed with having pre-eclampsia, that was now dangerously close to turning in to eclampsia. Naturally Kristy agreed to do whatever was necessary to save her child and herself. While trying to deliver the child vaginally, it became apparent the child was stuck in Kristy’s tailbone, and Kristy’s kidneys were beginning to malfunction. It was then decided an emergency c-section was the last resort. Once the c-section was performed Kristy’s daughter faced some jaundice and a bilirubin problem, but both cleared up in a few days. Her daughter was then an over all healthy newborn. Kristy on the other hand was not yet out of the woods. Her kidneys and liver were not functioning properly. Kristy ended up having to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks due to a uterine infection, high grade fevers, and due to massive swelling, this swelling was also causing her stitches to rip open.
In the beginning of this post I mention that even though no one was killed, I can not say that no one was harmed. Kristy has had several health issues that are largely believed to have been caused, or at least exasperated, by the ordeal her body had gone through during her first pregnancy. She still experiences pain from deep scars and ripped incisions if she isn’t sitting a certain way before she sneezes, as well as other serious health issues. These health issues, although currently managed, still plague her to this day, and have had an impact on the size of her family. She has had one pregnancy and birth since this ordeal and both came with their own set of problems that caused early labor episodes, a dying umbilical cord, and medical problems for her second daughter to overcome as a toddler. Medical personnel have since told Kristy she is unlikely to live through another pregnancy. As a result she and her husband have decided not to take the risk by adding to their family. Kristy and her husband have two girls, ages 11 and 13. As a mother of three myself, and one with no desire for more children, I could easily look at this and think that losing the opportunity for another child isn’t horrible after having two children, but I would be wrong. It’s one thing to make this choice yourself, it’s another thing to have it made for you. I was able to make this choice for myself, it wasn’t made for me through a clinic’s negligence. I can’t imagine having this choice taken from me. No one should have this choice made for them.
It’s always a smart choice to seek routine medical care throughout pregnancy. More importantly though, there is never a good reason to avoid such routine medical care while pregnant. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?
Instead of trying to wrap this blog post up myself, I am going to quote some things Kristy had said to me in messenger. She puts all of this into words much better than I could. Kristy had said to me, “No one told me eclampsia was a death sentence. No one told me my baby could get sick or die from it as well. No one told me that my blood pressure was dangerously high. No one told me they cared about what was best for me too, and not just the baby. The harm in tunnel vision of focusing on traditional medicine plants and foods and not doing enough routine screenings and blood pressure checks and not noticing all the tell tale signs of pre-eclampsia by a real doctor, not a midwife or traditional medicine “doctor” is that not doing those screenings was very close to ending my life…….It is very important to have frequent checkups in pregnancy. Just because “women did this for thousands of years without doctors” doesn’t mean they didn’t die because of it. I respect the whole process of wanting as close to natural as possible for pregnancy and delivery - I truly did want that - but I wasn’t checked often enough or thorough enough to find out if it was actually safe for me to do so. Had I known I had such high BP and how truly dangerous it was, I would have gotten help or meds or something sooner. I am just glad I listened when my body said that things were wrong. Had I stayed home and tried to sleep it off I would not have woken up. That was made explicitly clear to me. It scared the shit out of me.”