Hold on a minute! Did that 56 year old new mother die because of advanced maternal age or because of medical error?


I admit it.

When I saw headlines like this one from Yahoo Parenting, A Week After Welcoming the Twins She Longed for, Mom, 56, Dies, I assumed that she died as a result of her decision to attempt pregnancy at such an advanced maternal age. I expected that when I read the article, I would learn that she died from a heart attack, or postpartum cardiomyopathy, or a worsening of a long term serious medical condition. In other words, I figured that she was partly responsible for the deadly outcome.

But she didn’t die as a result of advanced maternal age. According to the article, she died as a result of a bowel obstruction, a surgical complication, and one that is very treatable if recognized early.

Nonetheless, the focus seems to be on the age of Dr. Lisa Swinton McLaughlin, mother of premature twins Dylan and Jordan.

… Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, …, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says he is all for pregnancy for any woman who wants it. But he’s also careful to go over all the risks involved, he says, and compares opting for IVF pregnancy at an advanced maternal age to that of people who choose to not wear helmets while riding their bikes. “If the risks are not too high for you, then you do it,” he says. “But while the baby might be healthy, it might not be able to enjoy a healthy mom.” The risk of pregnancy-related death for women 40 and over, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is five times higher than that of women 25 to 29.

Medical News Daily weighs in:

Pregnancies in older women are associated with greater risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, cancer, needing a caesarean or assisted delivery, fetal anomalies such as Down syndrome, and even a heart attack in pregnancy, albeit a rare event, Dr Tony Falconer, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) in England told The Guardian. These types of pregnancies are also associated with increased risk for gestational diabetes and multiple pregnancy, such as what occurred in McLaughlin’s case. Both these conditions can complicate childbirth and increase the risk of developing injuries.

But McLaughlin did not die of any of those complications.

Due to her condition, doctors decided to deliver her sons via C-section on Dec. 27, 2014. Though their birth was premature, the boys were reportedly born healthy. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for their mother. McLaughlin complained of stomach pain, which she had attributed to her C-section incision. In reality, the new mother was suffering from a severe bowel obstruction. A week after giving birth McLaughlin passed away from her condition, leaving her newborn sons in the care of her husband.

A bowel obstruction, a kink in the intestine that stops all flow through the digestive system, is a well known surgical complication. It is unusual after a C-section since the bowel is not touched during the typical C-section, but it can happen. They symptoms include pain, intermittent and often severe, as well as nausea and vomiting.

A post surgical bowel obstruction is a treatable condition. Sometimes it will resolve on its own if the bowel is allowed to rest and nothing is taken by mouth. If it does not resolve on its own, surgery must be performed to untwist the kink. It’s important to diagnose and treat a bowel obstruction in a timely fashion. That’s because the kink can also cut off the flow of blood to that area of the intestine, leading to gangrene and/or perforation (a hole in the bowel spilling its contents into the abdominal cavity). These are potentially deadly complications.

Let me stress that I don’t know what actually happened. I, like everyone else, know only what I have read in the mainstream media. But if Dr. McLaughlin died of a bowel obstruction, it is unlikely that her age had much to do with it and far more likely that this was a surgical complication, possibly one that was not diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion.

This is a terrible tragedy. A woman who desperately wanted children died shortly after meeting those them, and two premature babies who desperately needed their mother are destined to grow up motherless. There’s not much that could be worse than that, except perhaps for implying that Dr. McLaughlin’s death was the result of a bad choice on her part when the reality is that is may have been the result of a medical error.