Ross family shares stillborn daughter's story to prevent more heartbreak
After Mary Korey delivered Riley Quinn, she and her husband dressed the baby in a white spring dress and wrapped her in a soft yellow blanket.
They took photographs, kissed and caressed her.
They marveled over her delicate fingers and dark curly hair that resembled her father's. She weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 19 1⁄4 inches long.
“She was beautiful,” Mary said.
Then they began planning her funeral. Riley was stillborn, her July 15, 2013, death the result of her mother's medical condition known as preeclampsia, which can elevate blood pressure and cause brain, kidney or liver damage. In some cases, it can kill mother or baby.
The previous night, Mary could no longer feel the baby moving inside her, prompting a frantic 1 a.m. trip to the hospital. Minutes later, she and her husband, Jay, learned the baby had died.
Mary didn't know she was preeclamptic. She heard doctors utter that word in passing while in the throes of labor with her firstborn, Timothy, now 5, at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
She said doctors never followed up afterward besides placing her on blood pressure medicine for several months.
“No one ever came back and said, ‘Hey, while you were in labor, this happened,'” Mary said last week in her Ross home, outside of Pittsburgh, her husband at her side. “No one explained what preeclampsia was or what to watch out for.”
Mary, 33, still agonizes over her own inaction to follow up with doctors and research preeclampsia on her own after Timothy's birth. She wonders whether she could have made a difference.
More than anything, she and Jay want to spread awareness about preeclampsia.
“I don't want to scare people, but I want to help get the word out there,” Mary said. “Information could have saved Riley's life. If this helps someone else, it makes her matter. It's the way she still lives on.”
Preeclampsia affects 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies in the United States, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization. The condition, which jeopardizes the health and lives of expectant mothers and babies, is responsible for about 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant deaths per year worldwide.
The hallmark symptoms of preeclampsia are elevated blood pressure and protein in the urine. There are others, such as swelling, headaches and vision changes. Its causes are unknown, making it difficult to control.
The condition usually occurs while the mother is in her second or third trimester of pregnancy and up to six weeks after delivery. If left untreated, the rapid rise in blood pressure can lead to stroke, seizure, organ failure and death of a mother, her baby or both.
“This condition has been called ‘the great pretender' because it looks like other conditions and never looks exactly the same in two people,” said Dr. Paul Weinbaum, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and managing partner at Allegheny Health Network's Allegheny Perinatal Associates. “It's a pretty consistent problem for us.”
He said the only proven effective treatment option is premature delivery. If the case is mild, doctors prefer to deliver the baby at 37 weeks. If the case is severe, they'll deliver at 34 weeks, Weinbaum said.
Jay Korey, 36, still has trouble looking at baby sonogram photos because they remind him of Riley's last image and the moment doctors told him she was gone.
Still, he and Mary garnered the courage to try again.
“We both grew up with siblings, so it was natural for us to feel that Timothy should have a sibling,” Jay said. “We put all our fears and anxieties aside.”
Mary gave birth to a daughter, Alana, on Dec. 13, 2014. This time, she was treated as high risk for her entire pregnancy with increased visits and ultrasound imaging, along with constant blood pressure monitoring.
She exhibited high blood pressure, and a urinalysis showed protein toward the end of her third pregnancy in week 36. Doctors decided to induce her delivery and Alana was born. She spent 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit to develop her lungs, then went home.
A makeshift growth chart on the wall of the Korey kitchen shows the progress of each child, heights recorded in pencil.
In a nearby room, the Koreys keep a large refurbished chest with remembrances of Riley: tiny shoes, a lock of her hair, stuffed animals, dolls and her photo among other items.
“This is all her,” said Jay as he opened the chest to share the memory.
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or email@example.com.