Local woman’s tragic story an example of alarming trend that concerns doctors, expectant mothers

PITTSBURGH — The COVID-19 pandemic is causing historic challenges in healthcare, with the crisis started during an already critical time for maternal health.

In 2019, top doctors at UPMC told us the country was seeing an “unacceptable” rise in pregnancy complications, especially in minority communities.

Only Channel 11 Morning News Anchor Katherine Amenta stayed on the story and followed the trends, which doctors say we now have a unique opportunity to change.

Amanda Romanelli keeps moving forward, with her daughter Mila, and husband Mario, by her side.

When we first met Mario and Mila back in 2019, Amanda wasn’t with us. She was in the hospital after suffering a rare and catastrophic complication during Mila’s birth - an amniotic fluid embolism.

It means amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream during childbirth and in many cases, causes death. But, experts at UPMC told me the condition is still very much a mystery and the theories are changing.

“Amniotic fluid enters the circulation of lots of women in pregnancy,” explained Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, the Vice Chair of Obstetrical Services at UPMC Magee. “It’s part of normal pregnancy, (so) the concept that it’s amniotic fluid itself is probably an insufficient explanation of what the condition really is.”

>>RELATED: Local woman’s tragic story an example of alarming trend that’s concerning doctors, expectant mothers

Amanda was given just 48 hours to live, suffered a stroke and eventually lost her right leg. But 18 months later, Amanda is back home, in physical therapy and fighting to one day walk again. And now Mario hopes their journey will lead to a broader discussion.

“Maternal health in general. It’s a real ongoing issue... getting pregnant is a serious thing,” said Mario Romanelli.

The medical community agrees. In 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services determined that a woman dies every 12 hours from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S., and that the majority are preventable. Maternal death impacts Black women at twice the rate of many other racial groups.

Simhan says that while the numbers are disturbing, there’s an opportunity to turn the tide.

“It feels like this could be the 2020s, our moon shot, ya know we’re focused on this. By understanding and narrowing disparities, we improve health for everyone. Right?”

Simhan says doctors traditionally focused on conditions like abnormal blood pressure and diabetes, but now need to address access to care and the doctor-patient relationship, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The healthcare environment is safe and can be safe...preventive health care is important,” said Simhan.

As for Amanda Romanelli, she’s determined to overcome her pregnancy complications and be there for her daughter.

“She’s the reason I do everything I do,” Amanda said.

They’re a family on a mission, with an army of support by their side.

“We can’t thank people enough. It really is helping us, and our families are forever grateful,” said Mario Romanelli.

In the weeks ahead, Amanda has another major surgery coming up on her abdomen and will spend weeks in the hospital.

If you’d like to help, you can donate to their GoFundMe page HERE.