Black, 40 years old, previous stillbirth. Mom’s death from sepsis drives dad to push for customized pregnancy care

Clayton Anderson said despite suffering a prior stillbirth, his late wife Krystal Anderson received the same level of preventive care as a 23-year-old who's very healthy.

Former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader Krystal “Krissy” Anderson and her husband, Clayton Anderson, felt like they had finally received another chance to grow their family after they learned last November that she was pregnant again. Her pregnancy with baby James had ended in a stillbirth. But at age 40, Krystal was pregnant again.

Clayton told ABC News he saw their second chance for parenthood as a “little sign from” James. Despite the couple believing he was sending them a hopeful message, they had concerns. Krystal was Black. She was older. She’d lost a child before.

Just one of those factors was particularly risky, but the Andersons were navigating a frightening trifecta. So, they requested high-risk care from the onset, Clayton told ABC. But doctors told the couple they would have to wait until Krystal was three and a half months pregnant, he said, as you “can’t start a plan with maternal-fetal medicine or the high-risk maternity doctors until you get to week 14.”

Black maternal health
Clayton Anderson is speaking out against the maternal health care system following the death of his wife, Krystal Anderson, who appears in the framed photograph behind him. (Photo: Screenshot/ 41 News)

“All pregnancy is high risk, especially, moreso, when you’re a woman of color, or you’re older,” Clayton contended, “and they should be treated that way from the start.”

Krystal died March 20, four weeks short of getting the specialized care she and her husband wanted. Unfortunately, the outcome for Krystal is the same for many Black mothers, who are at least three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications when compared to white women. Charlotte Willow, the Andersons’ daughter, died four days before her mother. And like her, Charlotte became another tragic data point that shows that Black babies — even those from wealthy moms — die at a higher rate than those born to poor white mothers. 

The Black community is familiar with well-known and well-off Black mothers having to fight for themselves to receive appropriate care during pregnancy and after delivery. Tennis champion Serena Williams had to advocate for herself after several blood clots developed in her lungs following the birth of her first daughter, Alexis Olympia, via C-section in 2017. Four years prior, actress Kyla Pratt had experience with a dismissive care provider who initially ignored her contraction concerns when she was giving birth to her second child.

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Clayton Anderson is now speaking out against “one-size-fits-all” prenatal care in honor of his late wife, who, at 40, was of advanced maternal age and automatically more at risk for pregnancy complications.

In December, a month after learning about her pregnancy, Krystal had a miscarriage scare. In the 16th week, she underwent a cerclage operation to ensure her cervix would remain viable for the rest of the pregnancy. Her next doctor’s visit was scheduled for week 20.

“Expecting somebody who’s had a loss to go four weeks in between seeing their care providers … That’s the same protocol that’s done for a 23-year-old that’s very healthy,” said Clayton. “It can’t be a one-size-fits-all.”

After complications in March, doctors made plans to admit his wife into a specialized hospital unit that could handle a periviable birth if she lasted to 22 weeks. During her week 20 visit, Clayton said doctors began prescribing semi-bedrest for two weeks to help her reach that point.

On Saturday, March 16, still in week 20, Krystal began experiencing back pains, which her OB doctor suggested could be a sign of contractions and dehydration. After running tests, Clayton said doctors discovered amniotic fluid and eventually stopped detecting a heartbeat in the fetus.

Krystal underwent surgery the following morning and returned on a ventilator and dialysis machine, experiencing kidney, liver and lung failure. She died within days.

The Mayo Clinic defines sepsis as “a serious condition in which the body responds improperly to an infection.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis affects 1.7 million adults in the U.S. each year, resulting in nearly 270,000 deaths annually.

Medical journal Healthcare, published in the National Library of Medicine, asserts that Black and Hispanic communities have higher morbidity and mortality rates in sepsis than the white population. While systemic bias against minority groups are often to blame for the disparities, the journal noted that “a growing body of literature has found patient, community, and hospital-based factors to be driving racial differences.”

According to ABC News, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission declined to provide specific details surrounding Krystal Anderson’s care due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, but the hospital sent condolences to the family.

“Our hearts are hurting in this tragic situation,” they said in a statement, ABC reported. “We, along with the independent providers who deliver care in our facilities, strive to provide the best possible care to every patient based on their specific needs and circumstances. We extend our prayers and support to family members and loved ones experiencing the devastating loss of precious life.”