Unexpected Pregnancy Complications: Allyson Felix’s Story

pregnancy-related complications can affect anyone

Allyson is an elite track and field athlete and Olympian who was diagnosed at 32-weeks pregnant with severe preeclampsia – a potentially life-threatening, pregnancy-related complication. Given her exceptional level of fitness and extensive training, she was surprised to learn during a prenatal visit that she had elevated levels of protein in her urine and had developed high blood pressure. Her doctor admitted her into the hospital for further monitoring and testing. She was then sent for an emergency C-section. Her doctor’s fast actions may have saved her life.

Allyson’s story is not unique. As many as 50,000 women experience severe, unexpected health problems related to pregnancy each year. Some may have long-term health consequences, and others may not survive. Over 700 women die each year in the U.S. from problems related to pregnancy or delivery complications. Every death is a tragedy, especially when we know that two-thirds of pregnancy-related deaths could have been prevented.

Allyson felt prepared—she is a professional athlete, had a birth plan, went to prenatal appointments, attended birthing classes, and trained throughout her pregnancy. She never imagined that she would experience a serious problem during her pregnancy. Yet with two months to go until her due date, she was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and had to be admitted immediately to the hospital, resulting in an emergency C-section.

Her daughter, Camryn, was born at 3 pounds, 7 ounces and had to spend her first month of life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Thankfully, Camryn is now a healthy, growing toddler, and Allyson is a healthy, proud mom and a champion for maternal health. She is also focused on raising awareness of the higher burden of poor pregnancy outcomes among Black women, in hopes of helping generate change.

Allyson joined CDC’s Hear Her campaign to share her story and help educate women and all who support them about the urgent warning signs of pregnancy-related complications.

“I really want women to be aware, to know if they’re at risk, to have a plan in place, to not be intimidated in doctor’s offices, and to be heard. To know the signs and be persistent about anything that does not feel normal.”

Black women are 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than White women.

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What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a disorder that generally develops after week 20 of pregnancy and is characterized by a sudden onset of high blood pressure and signs of damage to organs, including the liver and kidney.

Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • A headache that will not go away
  • Changes in vision, including having blurry vision, seeing spots, or having changes in eyesight
  • Pain in the upper stomach area
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling of the face or hands
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Trouble breathing