Sepsis Stories
Wall Street Journal
Laura Kusisto, Maternal Sepsis Survivor

You can read Laura’s full story, which she chronicled in The Wall Street Journal.

Laura Kusisto, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, gave birth to her first child, Jonah, following a routine labor. She experienced a dizzy spell and drop in blood pressure following the birth–an indication she was losing too much blood–but these resolved themselves the following day and she was discharged.

Upon returning home with her infant son, Laura’s appetite vanished. A week later she found she was running a low grade fever. With no other symptoms, her midwife and a consulting obstetrician diagnosed her with mastitis and advised her to stay home, away from hospitals battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Another week passed and the fever remained. An obstetrician advised her to go to walk-in clinic. Her bloodwork showed a high white blood cell count, potentially indicating a serious infection. Laura, her husband and new son went to the emergency room where an obstetrician told her that her symptoms didn’t seem unusual; postpartum women can have high white blood cell counts. She urged her to return home–but Laura was adamant that she needed help; something was wrong. Additional bloodwork was ordered and Laura was discharged with instructions to make an appointment with another doctor a few days later.

When she emailed the obstetrician from the ER seeking comment for the article she was writing for The Wall Street Journal, the obstetrician replied that her symptoms were atypical for a serious infection, and she was thrown off because there was no high fever or pain. “As an OB/GYN, it is so important to me to listen to women,” she said, adding that “women’s symptoms are sometimes not taken as seriously as they should be,” she said.

The next afternoon the hospital told Laura to come back in: Tests from the ER had discovered bacteria in her blood, indicating sepsis, the second leading cause of maternal death.

Doctors later determined that about a liter of blood had leaked into her abdomen following the delivery, leading to the severe dizziness she had experienced. The pool of blood had turned into an abscess the size of a small watermelon, requiring a blood transfusion, surgery and six weeks of antibiotics. Laura spent the next eight days in the hospital, separated from her new baby–an excruciating, heartbreaking and traumatic experience.

Laura’s story highlights the serious deficiency in postpartum care for women in the United States. Most women have no contact with a healthcare provider (other than a pediatrician) for a full six weeks after giving birth; maternal sepsis is most likely to occur in the days and weeks immediately following delivery.

The U.S. has a maternal mortality rate double that of most other high-income countries. And according to the CDC,  about two- thirds of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable; factors include lack of access to care, delayed diagnoses and missed warning signs.

You can read Laura’s full story HERE