Tennis great casts spotlight on maternal and child health

Burnet Institute

22 February, 2018

Image: Serena Williams and daughter Olympia (Source: Serena Williams/Instagram)

Former women’s world No.1 tennis player Serena Williams has called for greater support for maternal and child health in developing countries after revealing that she “almost died” after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, last September.

In a column for CNN, Ms Williams said she underwent multiple surgeries to address complications arising from the birth, and was bedridden for the first six weeks of her motherhood.

“It began with a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot,” she wrote.

“Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation, so when I fell short of breath, I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.

“This sparked a slew of health complications that I am lucky to have survived. First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism.

“I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen, and then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs."

Ms Williams said she was grateful for access to trained medical staff and state-of-the-art equipment, while conceding that she was one of the lucky ones.

“Around the world, thousands of women struggle to give birth in the poorest countries,” she wrote. “When they have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them.

“If they don’t want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy. Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them.”

Ms Williams urged people to join her in supporting medical research, and donating to charities that help mothers and newborns around the world.

Find out more about Burnet’s work in maternal and child health, including our Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program in Papua New Guinea.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Doctor Elissa Kennedy

Co-Program Director, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health; Co-Head Global Adolescent Health




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