By all accounts, Kira Johnson could be described as a phenomenal woman. She traveled extensively, spoke five languages, and even raced cars with her adoring husband of 10 years right by her side.
The mother of one son, 19-month-old Charles Johnson V, Kira and her husband were ecstatic when they found out they were having another boy—they had wanted two back to back.
According to her husband Charles Johnson IV, who is the son of Judge Glenda Hatchett, star of the nationally syndicated reality court TV show Judge Hatchett, Kira never missed a prenatal appointment and was in excellent health.
On April 12, 2016, Kira gave birth to Langston Johnson at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a world-renowned hospital, but Charles noticed that she was having a difficult recovery. 11 Alive reports:
He noticed blood in Kira’s catheter. He said he brought it to the attention of the nurses and doctors, and the staff ordered a CT scan.
“That was supposed to be performed STAT,” Charles said. “In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘That means immediately.’”
Charles said he repeatedly asked the medical staff for help, but waited for hours.
“She’s beginning to tremble uncontrollably,” Charles recalled. “She’s beginning to shake. She’s beginning to be in increasingly more pain. She’s becoming sensitive to the touch. There’s still no CT scan.”
Charles said a CT was never performed, and they waited seven hours before doctors took her back for an internal exam.
When they finally did so, Charles said doctors told him “‘She’ll be back in 15 minutes,’” he said. “And that was the last time I saw Kira alive.”
Kira’s cause of death was from a hemorrhage. Charles said doctors found three liters of blood in Kira’s stomach and her heart stopped.
Kira is but one of the hundreds of black women who die in childbirth each year—at rates that dwarf those of their white counterparts—regardless of socioeconomic standing, education or marital status (see Serena Williams’ near-death experience in childbirth or the new report that black women in Illinois are six times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts.)
As Linda Villarosa reported in her seminal piece earlier this year, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” the disparity in black women dying in childbirth (which one might have assumed was something from the 19th century) has been an issue for at least a century:
Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C. — a disproportionate rate that is higher than that of Mexico, where nearly half the population lives in poverty — and as with infants, the high numbers for black women drive the national numbers.
11 Alive reports that for every 13 white women who die during pregnancy or within one year of giving birth, there are 44 black women. More than half of all deaths have been deemed preventable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The reasons for this disparity, which has been studied and debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades, is not definitely clear, but there is growing evidence that the toxicity of racism—both in the lives of black women and in the medical establishment—plays a large part.
“For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death,” the article states.
People reports that on March 22 of this year, Charles filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai, claiming that the medical team there did not respond to Kira’s escalating issues in a timely manner.
Two years after Johnson’s death, Cedars-Sinai recently released the following statement:
Kira Johnson’s death was a tragedy. Her husband, Charles S. Johnson IV, is demonstrating important leadership in raising awareness of preventable maternal deaths. Cedars-Sinai strongly agrees with Mr. Johnson and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that no mother should die giving birth.
While federal privacy laws prevent us from responding directly about any patient’s care without written authorization, we can share the following: One of the reasons for Cedars-Sinai’s high quality of care is that we thoroughly investigate any situation where there are concerns about a patient’s medical care. Based on our findings, we make any changes that are needed so that we can continue to provide the highest quality care to our patients. This includes reviewing hospital procedures as well as the competency of healthcare providers.
Judge Hatchett, who lives with her son and her two grandsons, believes Kira’s death could have been prevented.
“They researched, they were in Los Angeles, they knew that Cedars-Sinai was a world-class hospital and after she died, they said ‘Oh, had we gotten her back to the operating room she would be perfectly fine. Oh if we had...’ Well, why the hell didn’t they?” Hatchett asked 11 Alive. “It was not that she was sick, it’s not that she had a preexisting condition, that she had a heart problem or she had a blood clot, none of that was Kira’s case.”
“We walked in for what we expected to be the happiest day of our life. And we walked straight into a nightmare,” Charles, now an activist in preventing maternal deaths, said to 11 Alive. “I sit awake at nights thinking maybe I should have grabbed somebody by the collar, maybe I should’ve turned a table over, would that have made a difference? Even two years later, I still can’t make sense of it in my mind.”