OREM — What was supposed to be a day of joy turned into a day of grieving for a Utah County family.
Katrina Lawrence, a mother of six, died during childbirth Monday.
Katrina and Justus Lawrence were eagerly anticipating the arrival of their sixth child. A few weeks ago, Katrina was placed on hospital bed rest after doctors discovered a potentially dangerous condition called placenta previa.
Doctors were standing by to treat the 36-year-old woman the moment the baby was delivered, but they were unable to save her life.
“We have a brand new baby,” Justus said, unable to hold back the tears. “I will miss her so much.”
The couple's sixth child, Jet Lee, was due June 15. He arrived early, joining his five siblings — 14-year-old Kai, 12-year-old Te, 11-year-old Maya, 8-year-old Dax and 3-year-old Koa.
Five months into her pregnancy, Katrina began to experience complications associated with placenta previa — a condition where the baby’s placenta partially or totally covers the mother’s cervix, which can cause severe bleeding before or during delivery — and placenta accreta.
“There’s a risk of the placenta growing into the uterus and not detaching normally during the time of delivery,” said Dr. Glenn Schemmer, a perinatologist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. “It's certainly more common in undeveloped countries and less common in developed countries like the United States. ”
Schemmer said women who have had multiple cesarean section births are at higher risk for placenta previa and accreta. All of Katrina's previous births had been delivered by C-section.
Three weeks ago, as her condition became more serious, doctors began monitoring her in the hospital. About 2:30 p.m. Monday, Katrina began hemorrhaging and was rushed into surgery.
“They went in, they took the baby fairly well,” Justus said. “Then they started doing surgery, (and) her heart stopped. It didn’t slow down. It just stopped.”
Doctors did everything they could to save her, he said. They were able to restart her heart, but it stopped again.
“She was giving birth, gave her life for the little guy,” Justus said.
The Utah Department of Health reports roughly 200 to 250 noted cases of placenta previa each year.
In 2010, 17 Utah women died from childbirth complications. The three leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in Utah are embolism, heart conditions and hemorrhage.
"It's still relatively uncommon in the United States. Maternal deaths (in the U.S.) occur 10 to 20 per 100,000 live births," Schemmer said. "In underdeveloped countries, that number could be as many as 250 per 100,000 live births."
Schemmer said other underlying health problems can complicate pregnancy and lead to more serious complications, "such as diabetes, high blood pressure, certain conditions to the heart."
For now, the Lawrence family is coping with the loss surrounded by friends and neighbors.
Te said he has been overwhelmed with the support his family has received from friends, family and the community.
"They all came over and made sure we were OK," he said.
Katrina's family called her an angel on Earth and said they believe it was just her time to go. The family had gathered at the hospital. When Maya saw relatives crying, she knew they were not crying tears of joy.
“My dad told me what happened,” she said through tears. “I closed my eyes, and I heard her say to me, ‘Goodbye, Maya. I love you.’ Then I saw a picture of her in my head.”
Maya, the only daughter in the family, she said she'll always cherish the mother-daughter time they shared.
Te said he will remember the times his mother would support him at sporting events.
"She would always be the one cheering me in the crowd and always be the one to say, ‘Good job,'" he said.
The oldest child, Kai, described his mother as an angel, a gift and a blessing.
"This morning, I could like almost see her just smiling in front of me," he said.
Kai said he made his mother a promise and plans to step up as the big brother in the family.
"I promised her that I would take care of her child," he said.
The family's also is helping them cope with their loss. They believe they'll see her again.
"She's in a better place," Justus said.
Katrina’s mother, Celeste Galbraith, said she was grateful for having the privilege to raise such a wonderful daughter.
“She had a good heart. She loved everybody, and she was so kind,” she said.
“I’m just glad that I was her dad,” Gordon Galbraith said.
“Katrina is one of those once-in-a-lifetime people that you don’t ever think will be gone,” her brother, Rex Galbraith, said.
As for newborn Jet Lee, doctors have taken him off oxygen, and he will begin bottle feeding soon.
A viewing will be held at 5 p.m. Friday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stake center at 1075 S. Geneva Road. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Because of Katrina's extended hospital stay, the family has incurred tremendous hospital bills. Family and friends have set up an account at Wells Fargo. People wishing to make a donation can do so at any Wells Fargo bank under the name “Team Katrina.”
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