Serena Williams

Serena Williams Was Ignored By Nurses After Childbirth, And It’s An Insight Into Racial Bias In Medicine

In 2017, tennis phenom Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, with her husband Alexis Ohanian at her side. Serena has been open about the serious medical difficulties that she faced after childbirth, which forced her to have four surgeries within a week. She suffered numerous life-threatening blood clots that did not receive immediate treatment, but she has now revealed that she had to advocate for herself after a nurse dismissed her concerns. In a new essay for Elle Serena describes how she had to take her life into her own hands which brings attention to the racial bias that exists in medicine.

This sentiment is echoed in a 2021 report from UCLA which states that “Black women die from pregnancy-related complications at more than three times the rate of white women, regardless of income or education level.”

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What Happened During the Birth of Serena Williams Baby?

After waking up from a successful cesarian section delivery of her daughter Serena knew something was wrong. She was immediately aware that her legs were numb and began experiencing excruciating pain. After passing out a couple of times, Serena knew exactly what was wrong and she tried to tell the nurses who helped her during the C-section delivery. 

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Serena Williams tried to warn her nurses that she would need a drug called Heparin. This is typically used to help blood clots as it thins the blood. Serena was not unfamiliar with blood clots, because her body was prone to them, and in 2010 she actually had one in her lungs (which is called a pulmonary embolism) which nearly killed her. This was scary enough that she developed a heightened awareness of the symptoms that warn you of blood clots. 

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“So much of what happened after that is still a blur,” Serena explained. “I may have passed out a few times. In my haze, I wondered if I should ask someone about my drip. In 2010, I learned I had blood clots in my lungs. Clots that, had they not been caught in time, could have killed me.” 

She asked the nurse for a heparin drip, but they were not willing to oblige. One of them reportedly said, ‘Well, we don’t really know if that’s what you need to be on right now.’”

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Serena Williams Had a Multitude of Surgeries

Serena’s symptoms got worse, and she started coughing frantically. If any of you are familiar with blood clots, you will know that coughing is one of the symptoms. Her cough got so bad that her stitched closing the C-section she’d just had ripped, and she started bleeding. This required another surgery to close up again. This was the first surgery after a few that ultimately saved Serena’s life. 

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According to Serena, when she woke up after the re-stitching surgery, she felt extremely faint. Her parents were in the room, but she could not hear them over the fearful chatter in her head. Serena said, “When I woke up from that surgery, in the hospital room with my parents and my in-laws, I felt like I was dying. They were trying to talk to me, and all I could think was, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. Oh my God,’”

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Without wanting to alarm her mother, Serena managed to get herself up and out of the room she was in to find the nurse on duty. She needed to save herself, with a newborn baby to think of, you can imagine her determination. 

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Her Doctors Finally stepped In To Check Things Out

“I told her: ‘I need to have a CAT scan of my lungs bilaterally, and then I need to be on my heparin drip,’” wrote Williams. “She said, ‘I think all this medicine is making you talk crazy.’ I said, ‘No, I’m telling you what I need: I need the scan immediately. And I need it to be done with dye.’ I guess I said the name of the dye wrong, and she told me I just needed to rest. But I persisted: ‘I’m telling you, this is what I need.’”

It took some time, but the nurse finally called the doctor who agreed to get Serena checked out.

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“I fought hard, and I ended up getting the CAT scan. I’m so grateful to [the doctor].” She then said, “Lo and behold, I had a blood clot in my lungs, and they needed to insert a filter into my veins to break up the clot before it reached my heart.” After the necessary tests were done, the doctors admitted to finding several clots that required a number of surgeries to treat.

Other than her experience with the nurse, Serena says her experience with her OBGYN was “amazing.” She felt listened to and taken care of.

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Sources

  1. Serena Williams on her near-death experience after giving birth: ‘No one was really listening’.Today. Alex Portée. April 7, 2022.
  2. Serena Williams describes near-death experience she had after giving birth to daughter Olympia.USA Today. Steve Gardner. April 7, 2022.
Jade Small
Freelance Writer
Jade is a freelance writer and content creator from South Africa with over 7 years experience writing and creating. She's also a proud single mom to a super 13 year old boy.
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