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The US maternal death rate is unacceptably high. It doesn't have to be.

California doctors came together and brought the state maternal death rate way down.

Yvette and Aaron Cornejo with their son, Matthew.
Byrd Pinkerton/Vox

When Yvette Cornejo went in into labor last August, she had already given birth to two sons. Their deliveries had been relatively short and easy, and she was hoping her third would be similar.

But this time was more complicated. The baby had flipped in the womb. He was coming out face down. There was a possibility that his shoulders would be crushed.

Nurses were eventually able to reach in and turn the baby around, and Matthew Cornejo was born healthy, with shoulders intact. But the labor had been long and very painful. Hours later, in the recovery ward, Yvette was still feeling that pain. She was curled up into a ball and grimacing.

A nurse checked her padding and noticed a clot of blood on it, roughly the size of a ping pong ball. She weighed it and swapped in fresh padding. Then Yvette passed more blood clots.

The nurse realized Yvette was hemorrhaging.

On this episode of The Impact, we look at how Yvette’s nurses and doctors dealt with that hemorrhage and saved her life — and how these procedures connect to a bigger effort to save mothers lives all across the state of California.

Compared to its peer countries, the United States has a surprisingly high maternal death rate. Mothers are three times more likely to die of childbirth here than in the UK, and eight time more likely to die of childbirth here than in Norway or Sweden.

But in California, a group of doctors came together just over a decade ago to build “toolkits” that would help doctors manage the most prevalent causes of maternal death, including preeclampsia, blood clots, and hemorrhage.

These toolkits involve physical tools, like a “hemorrhage cart” full of implements to treat a mother’s bleeding, as well as step-by-step instructions to guide doctors through caring for mothers.

This effort cut California’s maternal death rate by more than half in five years. And it helped save mothers like Yvette.

For more reporting on maternal health, read Vox reporter Julia Belluz’s piece on the California project.

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