Mary Elise Porter, 33, adored San Diego so much that she decided to move from the South with her husband in November 2020. Formerly a travel nurse, she secured a permanent nursing position at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, and was overjoyed to learn several weeks later that she was pregnant.
Nineteen weeks into her pregnancy, however, a doctor’s appointment revealed unexpected complications. “I was delighted to hear that I was going to have a son,” she says. “But my doctor found that I was already dilating. I was shocked, as I hadn’t been in pain, other than having a slight backache.”
Troubling news, early in her pregnancy
Mary Elise learned she had a short cervix and a condition called cervical insufficiency, which is when the cervix opens too early during pregnancy. The condition can be serious, leading to premature birth or miscarriage.
At the appointment, Mary Elise also discovered she had hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — which can cause pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia. This condition can lead to dangerous outcomes, such as seizures or death.
In the U.S., the rate of hypertension in pregnancy has been on the rise. Today, 1 in 12 pregnant women between ages 20 and 44 have high blood pressure. As a Black woman, Mary Elise is not alone: Black women have a higher risk of developing hypertension during pregnancy.
To help secure her son in the womb, Mary Elise received a cerclage, a procedure that places a stitch around the cervix to close it until the baby is born. Mary Elise was then put on bed rest, and only allowed to visit the doctor’s office weekly to make sure everything was OK.
However, during a checkup in her 23rd week of pregnancy, Mary Elise experienced preterm labor, which led her to be admitted into the Perinatal Special Care Unit (PSCU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. She was hospitalized in the unit for 11 weeks.
“It hadn’t been long since my husband and I moved to San Diego, and my friends and family couldn’t easily travel from the South due to the pandemic,” she says. “So, there were times I was lonely.”
Care providers become surrogate family
Away from her loved ones, Mary Elise grew close to her Sharp care team. “The nurses and OBGYNs regularly checked on me and helped me through my nausea and heartburn,” she says. “With their kindness and care, they became like family.”
“Mary Elise was a lovely patient,” Dr. Tith says. “Being a nurse, she is very knowledgeable and knew how high risk her pregnancy was. She wanted to do everything to have a great outcome for her and her baby.”
When Mary Elise reached 34 weeks and her health stabilized, she was sent home. She had her cerclage removed the following week.
Mary Elise’s water broke at 37 weeks into her pregnancy. Her son was born on New Year’s Eve and was monitored in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for four days before he was ready to go home.
One more challenge to overcome
However, Mary Elise’s journey wasn’t quite over. About a week after giving birth, she was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia during a follow-up appointment. She was hospitalized at Sharp Mary Birch for two days to stabilize her health.
“Severely elevated blood pressure could increase Mary Elise’s risk for a stroke, so it was important to admit her, treat her blood pressure and prevent seizures,” says Dr. Tith.
Today, Mary Elise is grateful that both she and her son are well, thanks to the care she received from her Sharp team. “Every nurse and doctor were so observant and attentive,” she says. “They provided me with great care and helped protect my life as well as my baby’s life.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Tith about this story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.