SPOKANE, Wash. — The day baby Carley arrived was the best day of Debbie Maloney’s life but it was also a day when her life was perilously fragile.

A week before baby Carley arrived, Maloney began feeling ill.

“It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life…and I really didn’t think it was labor,” Maloney said. "Then I started to get sicker. I was throwing up. I called my midwife and she said, 'Oh, I think you have a stomach virus.' And then I continued to get worse."

Maloney was living in western Washington at the time. The pain became so extreme that she went to the hospital but staff sent her home.

"It was awful. I was like, I don't know. I was trusting my providers because they're the experts, not me,” Maloney said.

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"It was just like the worst excruciating pain I've ever felt,” Maloney continued. “And they were going to send me home again and the nurse was like, 'No, I think we should take some blood work.'"

It turns out Maloney had a life-threatening condition called HELLP Syndrome. Severe pre-eclampsia – a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure – can lead to HELLP Syndrome, where the constriction of a woman’s blood vessels can cause end damage to organs like the liver and kidneys.

With HELLP Syndrome, Maloney was at a high risk of having a stroke or bleeding to death. She did not have high blood pressure, which may be one reason the hospital staff kept sending her home until one nurse ordered a blood test.

"The doctor even told me she came in and she said it's a good thing you were persistent and listened to your body she's like you are very sick,” Maloney said.

She was so sick they rushed her back for a C-Section.

Today, baby Carley is healthy and happy, and so is Maloney. She is eternally thankful for the nurse who listened to her pleas the day her daughter arrived.

"I tell everyone I really think that R.N. that was there in triage that night is the one that really saved me. Because she's the one that pushed for it,” Maloney said.

Maloney’s advice to other women: Listen to your body and fight for yourself.


If you are wondering how you can advocate for yourself, here are some tips:

1. Make sure your hospital is prepared for the unexpected. For example, some hospitals have crash carts to use in an emergency but not all will have these life-saving protocols.

2. Listen to your body. Mothers are at risk from pregnancy for a full year after delivery. Spikes in blood pressure and dizziness are warnings of a more serious problem.

3. Speak up. There is proof it can save your life.

Maternal Mortality State-by-State