39-year-old Kira Johnson was a remarkable person. She could speak five languages, had raced cars, possessed a pilot’s license and even skydived as a hobby. She shared this active lifestyle with Charles, her husband of 10 years, and Charles Jr, their 19-month-old son.
The family was thrilled when Kira learned she was pregnant with their second child. When the Johnsons were told that Kira would have to deliver by C-section, they tried not to worry. Kira was in great shape and didn’t have any major health problems.
In April of 2016, Kira went to the hospital in Los Angeles where she had scheduled her routine C-section. After the procedure Kira complained of severe pain in her abdomen. Over the next several hours she started to shake, grew pale and became increasingly sensitive to touch. When they saw blood in her catheter her family knew how serious it was. Charles and the rest of the family begged the doctor and medical staff to address Kira’s symptoms and run tests. A CT was ordered but never happened.
For more than 10 hours Kira writhed in pain with no response from her medical team. When Kira’s doctor finally took her into emergency surgery to find out what was wrong, 3 liters of blood were found in her abdomen. The doctors had lacerated her bladder during the C-section and Kira had been bleeding internally for hours. Kira died on the operating table.
To her husband, Kira’s death was shocking and outrageous. She was healthy and fit and they had told the doctors for hours something was wrong only to be ignored. The hospital was dismissive with the family when they sought answers, or even an acknowledgement of what had gone wrong. What happened to Kira – uncontrolled bleeding that was identified too late – is a common, preventable cause of maternal mortality, and is one of the reasons three times as many African-American women than Caucasian women die in childbirth in California.
Stonewalled by the hospital when he sought answers, Charles sought to hold the doctor accountable. But Kira was a stay-at-home mom. Lawyers usually turn away these cases because, under California’s cap on malpractice damages, the most a family can recover when a non-wage-earning mother dies in childbirth is $250,000. That barely covers the costs of a case.
Charles later learned that Kira’s doctor had been responsible for the deaths of three other women and placed on four years of probation by the Medical Board of California – far below the Board’s own minimum standard sentencing guidelines. If the doctor had been sufficiently disciplined for his previous errors, Kira would likely have received proper treatment and be alive today.
Charles’s mother is court television’s Judge Glenda Hackett. Her connections brought media attention to Kira’s story, and helped Charles find an attorney to take Kira’s case. They hope the case will pressure the hospital to change practices and help prevent the deaths of other mothers, since the Medical Board likely will not.