First-time mom dies days after giving birth

Michelle Zavala (Courtesy KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nine months, Michelle and Chris Zavala could not wait to take portraits with their newborn baby girl, Clara. The baby was born two weeks early and the pregnancy wasn’t an easy one.

“She was considered a high-risk pregnancy,” said Chris, Michelle’s husband. “And, at 35 apparently they consider you a geriatric pregnancy,”

Michelle developed gestational diabetes which she controlled with a healthy diet. Chris says his wife’s labor on July 18 was a textbook case.

“I went to lunch with my parents down in the cafeteria in the hospital; and, we’re sitting there for about 10 to 15 minutes and I get a text from her saying, ‘I’m fully dilated,’” said Chris. “It was a beautiful moment.”

A day after leaving the hospital, Michelle noticed some swelling in her right foot. She called the doctor; and, it was determined that the swelling was probably routine. The condition soon went away.

But the next week, Michelle complained of shortness of breath. She phoned her husband asking him to get home as soon as he could. Chris says he was immediately alarmed.

“I heard something in her voice,” he said. “My wife isn’t easily rattled.”

When he arrived, they packed up Clara and drove to an urgent care center near their Pflugerville home. Before Chris knew it, Michelle’s health took a turn for the worse. He noticed that she was pale, she could not open her eyes or talk. A medical team scrambled to figure out what was wrong.

“I said, ‘Do something. Someone do something.’” he remembered. “They began to perform CPR on her and I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”

Doctors couldn’t save Michelle. The cause: a blood clot lodged in her lungs.

From the time the couple left their house to the time she passed away was about three hours.

The vibrant 35-year-old, first-time mother joined the ranks of thousands of Texas women who die within a year of giving birth. It’s an issue lawmakers are taking up right now in the state’s special session because Texas’s maternal mortality rate outpaces all other states. Two bills ask a special task force to find the reasons why. It is common for doctors to give patients a check-list of warning signs before they are discharged after giving birth.

Earlier this week, both the House and Senate bills addressing maternal mortality advanced to the opposite chamber. There are some significant differences between the two. The Senate bill extends the life of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force. It also asks the group to look at the maternal mortality issue for all women; and, possibly find cost-cutting ways to reduce the problem.

The House bill asks the task force to focus on African-American women first. Black children make up 11 percent of births in the state; and, of the women who die from pregnancy-linked complications, nearly 30 percent are black. The House bill would also as the task force to disregard cost-cutting measures until a solution is found.

For Chris, his family and friends have stepped in to help with midnight feedings, nap time and diaper changes.

And they have launched a fundraising page to pay for Clara’s care. Now, left with a professional photo book of the family’s portraits, Chris said he wishes he had more.

“Right now, the idea of raising Clara alone is not even a fear of mine. I have to do it,” he said. “It’s just losing Michelle right now is so difficult. That’s the hardest part about this. I lost my best friend.”