Mike Yard, comedian and widower of 36-year-old plus-size model/actress, Mia Amber Davis, is reportedly suing his late wife’s obstetrician-gynecologist for prescribing her birth control pills.
Davis had reportedly been prescribed the pills months before developing a blood clot in her lungs — called a “PE” or pulmonary embolus — which resulted in her death. Yard’s suit states that the pills caused the clot, and thus caused her death, according to reports.
As a physician, when I read the tragic reports of her death last year, and now as I read the reports of the lawsuit, it makes me a bit nervous about the impact this will have on African-American women and contraception.
My thoughts are not in any way meant to weaken Yard’s case, as I do not know the details surrounding Davis’ death beyond what was reported in the news and blogosphere. But, here is what I do know: Davis had several risk factors that may have contributed to her death. One, obesity; two, recent knee surgery; three, birth control pills.
Any one or a combination of all of these may have resulted in a blood clot in her lungs.
First and foremost, let me state that the word “obese” is not an insult — at least not in medicine. Obesity is a medical term that describes a condition for which the risk of poor health outcomes and early death is a reality. As a physician, I am not concerned about a patient’s appearance more than I am concerned about her health due to obesity.
Davis was an absolutely beautiful woman, a plus-size model, whose career even benefited from her size, as evidenced in her role in the movie Road Trip. Even after she lost an amazing 90 pounds, obesity was a continued risk factor for her. The problem is that obesity alone is a risk factor for forming blood clots.
Surgery also greatly increases the risk of forming blood clots. Any time a blood vessel is cut, the body’s natural response is to try to stop the bleeding by forming clots. That is not to say that a paper cut will result in death, but surgery is obviously much more complicated than a paper cut.
During and after surgery, people also tend to be more sedentary, which also contributes to forming blood clots. The late rapper, Heavy D, aka the Overweight Lover, was not only obese, but had reportedly returned from a long plane ride, during which he was probably sedentary a majority of the time. He died of a blood clot in his lungs a few days later. Davis reportedly had knee surgery the day before her death and likely was not physically active during her recovery.
Now, on to the point of birth control pills. Yes, the hormones in birth control pills do increase the risk of forming blood clots. But, guess what?
So does being pregnant.
Pregnant women have 4 to 5 times higher risk of forming blood clots than non-pregnant women. Birth control pills help women to avoid pregnancy, so that they can have babies when they are ready. Although certain politicians are against the notion of women having this control, over 95 percent of all women at some point in their lives will exercise the right to use contraception.
Recently, the number of teen pregnancies finally saw a decrease, the largest drop being among African-American teens. An attack on birth control could have a tremendously negative effect on the progress made on teen pregnancy.
The rates of death among African-American infants and pregnant women are significantly higher than other ethnic groups. Birth control allows women the time needed to optimize their own health so that they can have healthy babies.
Through her weight loss, Davis was obviously on the road to optimizing her own health. Using birth control might have allowed her the time she needed to become even healthier before conceiving a child. Certainly, birth control might have increased her risk of blood clots, but so would have pregnancy.
While Mia Amber Davis did have several factors that might have increased her risk of death, they do not negate the devastation of losing a beautiful, young, and talented woman at the prime of her life. Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, I hope that her husband and family can find peace in having shared at least some portion of their lives with her.
Dr. Renée Volny is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, a graduate of Morehouse School of Medicine’s Health Policy Leadership Fellowship, a contributor to the Policy Prescriptions online forum, and participates in medical missions with the International Healthcare Volunteers.