In the wee hours of the morning, Patricia Garcia took her last breath and made her transition. Her death was not a total surprise, she had almost died before. Garcia was 39 years old and the mother of an 11-month old son name Josiah who had made his entrance three months earlier than expected because he had stopped growing in his mother’s womb.  During her pregnancy, Garcia was concerned that she might die before Josiah was born because of her complications of having a stroke, obesity and failing kidneys. At barely 5 feet, Garcia weighed 261 pounds and was decidedly obese with a basal metabolic index (BMI) of over 40.

Obese pregnant women are plagued with almost every type of complication imaginable from miscarriages, higher rates of cesarean deliveries, birth defects, pre-eclampsia and sometimes death. Garcia received general anesthesia during the cesarean birth of Josiah. It would have been technically challenging to attempt to give her an epidural or spinal anesthesia. Because she was put to sleep, the surgical team had to move quickly to remove the baby so that it would not receive excessive amounts of the anesthetic. Garcia’s procedure was unfortunately prolonged by several minutes, again due to technical difficulties.

Obesity is a national epidemic with 26.7% of our population affected. Garcia was considered the smallest person in her family because her brother weighed 700 pounds prior to receiving a gastric bypass. Obese patients often face discrimination and humiliation from within the medical community. Diagnostic procedures have been cancelled when it is determined that the patient is over a certain BMI for fear that their equipment would not sustain the additional weight. Patient safety experts propose that “obesity centers” for pregnant women be established to provide nutritional counseling, emergency cesareans as necessary and neonatal intensive care units.

Garcia promised her physician that she’d lose weight after she was discharged home. She didn’t. Although Josiah is now more than a diminutive 1-pound-11 ounce baby, he is still very small and was recently diagnosed as having dwarfism. He will be raised by his sixty-something year old grandmother who is also taking care of Garcia’s mentally disabled brother. Obesity is not a benign disorder. Until Americans make better lifestyle choices, tragedies like Patricia Garcia’s will continue.