A near-death experience, pregnancy loss has a mother educating women about preeclampsia

Preeclampsia during pregnancy marked by high blood pressure needs to be caught as early as possible

SAN ANTONIO – Alexea Washington’s beautiful, healthy daughter Malia Rose is 3 months old.

“She’s literally the light of our lives, and she came into our lives at such a dark place for me,” Washington said.

It was her first pregnancy that cast that dark shadow. It started in 2022, around her third trimester when she noticed swelling.

“I had a pretty seamless pregnancy. None of my jewelry fit me anymore. My shoes were leaving an impression on my feet. My face was massive like I was so swollen in the face,” she said.

Then there was blood in her urine, and her blood pressure was sky-high.

She was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition marked by high blood pressure. Other signs include extreme swelling, especially of the face and hands, major headaches, pain in the abdomen or shoulder, and even vision changes.

In extreme cases like Washington’s, it can cause organ failure and seizures.

“I was around 31 weeks. They did a sonogram. They told us we had lost our son. The doctor said that she believed I had an abruption from my blood pressure being so high,” Washington said through tears.

After a devastating C-section at 31 weeks, doctors realized the preeclampsia had caused much more damage than they realized.

“I do not remember seeing him because I was in so much pain. It was all in my upper right shoulder and in my upper abdomen,” Washington said.

Then the situation turned dire.

“I coded. So I had to be resuscitated. I had had a hepatic liver rupture, so my liver was what was bleeding. I had already gone into respiratory failure. Complete total kidney failure,” she said.

Miraculously, she survived after over a month in the ICU.

While the severity of her case is extremely rare, she wants other women to know about preeclampsia in general.

When she became pregnant that first time, she’d never even heard of it.

“One of the main reasons we have prenatal care is to identify preeclampsia. We check blood pressure at every visit. We checked urine samples to see if patients have protein,” said Dr. Patrick Ramsey, the Maternal Fetal Medicine Director at University Health System and UT Health San Antonio.

Ramsey took on Washington as a patient when she unexpectedly became pregnant again.

“It was almost like a year to the date of the anniversary of everything that we found out that we were pregnant with her. And at first, I was super nervous. The amount of PTSD that I suffered was very, very great. I had to go through extensive trauma therapy for this,” Washington said.

Her panic stemmed from advice from a former doctor.

“My previous doctor had told me to never have kids because obviously with the rarity of this, they don’t know if it could come back. It was so serious,” she said.

Yet when she found Dr. Ramsey at University Health’s Women and Children’s Hospital, he explained that most second pregnancies carry a lower risk of preeclampsia.

Cases like hers, where women did have severe preeclampsia the first pregnancy, do carry higher risks. However, Ramsey said it’s entirely possible to have a healthy pregnancy with progress tracked closely and taking preventive measures.

“We don’t know what causes pre-eclampsia. It has been an enigma for centuries, but a healthy lifestyle, not excessive salt intake, taking care of other medical problems helps,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey also mentioned one of the best ways proven to help with preeclampsia risk.

“We do know that the use of baby aspirin in pregnancy can reduce the risk for pre-eclampsia,” Ramsey said.

Washington never missed a dose of baby Aspirin, and her preeclampsia never returned.

“So we are definitely very blessed this time,” she said, looking down at her daughter.

Washington hopes that blessing will offer hope, to others.

Also promising, is the research being done on the still-mysterious condition.

“There are some tests involving screening patients early in pregnancy. That may suggest some markers that could, suggest the patients at increased risk for preeclampsia. In the future, that may be a pathway that we can use to identify patients who are even at higher risk and have some type of therapy or prevention to mitigate the risk or lower the risk for preeclampsia” Ramsey said.

For now, Ramsey and Washington suggest women stay educated about risks.

“If you really want to have kids, you still have a chance. And by doing your research and really knowing the signs and the symptoms that will help your your whole outcome so much, and just paying attention to your body,” Washington said.

They tell women to advocate for themselves when they feel something is wrong and ask for tests to ensure they’re in the clear.

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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