Ob/Gyn Chair Mary D’Alton speaks out about maternal health

August 15, 2017

Mary D’Alton, MD, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, has been interviewed in several recent features on the potentially rising maternal mortality rate in the United States.

The U.S. currently has by some measures the highest rates of death or near-death of women from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes in the developed world, which has attracted increased media attention in the past several months. Several high profile pieces in national publications, including People magazine and a joint series of features by reporters from National Public Radio and ProPublica, have attempted to shed light on this serious maternal health issue.

The NPR/ProPublica series posits that a multitude of factors, spanning medical education, clinical care, and national standards, could be contributing to the comparatively high maternal mortality rate in the U.S. Over the past five years, Dr. D’Alton and leaders across the country have worked to address gaps in women’s health education, research, and clinical care through initiatives such as the National Partnership for Maternal Safety and New York State’s Safe Motherhood Initiative.

Another recent feature in People magazine shared the story of woman, Kristen Terlizzi, who was diagnosed during her second pregnancy with the condition placenta accreta, which can occur from multiple C-section deliveries. Terlizzi was in the hospital for close to two months after she delivered a healthy son, and nearly died.

Owing to the growing concerns around maternal health, the People magazine article notes that the state of New York plans to institute review of every maternal death, a move long supported by Dr. D’Alton.

“I think that is a very big step forward,” D’Alton said in People. “The lessons that we learn from reviews can be turned back into better clinical practice.”

Dr. D’Alton was also interviewed for an emotional video piece on People.com concerning the story of another mother, Kira Johnson, who lost her life after giving birth to her second son. Watch it here.

Dr. D’Alton is one of the country’s foremost experts on maternal fetal medicine and has been an outspoken advocate for efforts to reduce the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity. She has implemented a multidisciplinary approach to treat high risk pregnancies, setting up CUMC’s Carmen and John Thain Center for Prenatal Pediatrics, a regional coordinated-care center for the treatment of fetal complications, which opened in 2011, and  establishing the Mothers Center at CUMC, which is dedicated to caring for pregnant women with complex medical or surgical conditions.

Dr. D’Alton’s work to advance research, policy development, and clinical practice has won national recognition. Honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 by the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, Dr. D’Alton has served as its president and has held key positions in other professional organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Neonatal Encephalopathy and Cerebral Palsy Task Force and the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society.