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New mom died after just days — her husband hopes to save others

Brandon, Tara and Ryan Hansen
Six days after giving birth to son Brandon, Tara Hansen died from an infection that had occurred during the birth. (Photo provided by Ryan Hansen)

She complained to medical professionals about her symptoms, and she knew something was off, but no one was truly listening.

Six days after giving birth to her and her husband’s first born in 2011, Tara Hansen died  due to an undetected infection contracted during the birth process.

“Tara wasn’t feeling well relatively soon after she delivered. … She just didn’t feel herself,” said Ryan Hansen, of Tinton Falls. “In their eyes it was just the fact that she had just given birth — nothing to worry about.”

To honor Tara’s life, and hopefully help other women’s husbands, partners and loved ones avoid similar tragedies, Ryan created the Tara Hansen Foundation in 2012, dedicated in part to the advancement of maternal health awareness.

In a July article on the topic of pregnancy-related deaths, the New Jersey chair for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses told New Jersey 101.5 that pregnancy-related deaths in the Garden State rose from 20.8 deaths per 100,000 births in 2004, to 37.8 deaths in 2015.

With help from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and RWJ University Hospital, Ryan’s foundation developed the “Stop. Look. Listen!” campaign — a reminder for health professionals to evaluate a mother when she does not feel well, and never consider her complaints “as a usual part of just having a baby.”

“For many of us, we would think that a headache is just a normal part of stress and allergies and other types of benign reasons. But in actuality, in a pregnant woman it could preeclampsia or a more serious condition,” said Gloria Bachmann, OB/GYN at the medical school.

Even seemingly-insignificant symptoms — such as fatigue and fever — can be early signs of life-threatening conditions, Bachmann added.

Ilise Zimmerman, executive director of the Newark-based Partnership for Maternal & Child Health, said the campaign goes hand in hand with other movements in medicine that push for patient-centered care, rather than what’s most convenient for a physician or easier for a hospital.

“Physicians don’t want a poor outcome. They want women to be healthy,” Zimmerman said. “However, they are so busy and so much in demand, to listen to someone who is complaining about a pain or about a discharge takes a lot of patience.”

Statistics show maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States as the rate declines globally, but Zimmerman notes the U.S. utilizes a strong screening tool for its data-gathering, and comparing countries may not be the most reliable measurement.

Ryan Hansen expects to promote the “Stop. Look. Listen!” campaign nationwide. Its creation was the catalyst for legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Vitale and signed into law in May, that establishes Jan. 23 of each year as Maternal Health Awareness Day in New Jersey.

“I think we have a long way to go, but I think that we’re starting to move the needle in the right direction in getting people to recognize that we can do better,” he said.

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