This story is part of a larger conversation on the Black Maternal Health Crisis.
When Anthony Wallace first met his late wife, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, they were in college at Alabama A&M University, an HBCU. They knew of one another but did not date. It wasn’t until 2013 that their courtship began, about a year after they each graduated from their undergrad programs.
Between the time of their graduation and the official start of their relationship, Chaniece completed an internship with Riley Hospital in Indianapolis. It was during Chaniece’s internship that she and Anthony kept in touch. “We just started like virtually, you know, getting to know one another, having conversations,” he said.
When Chaniece completed her internship, she moved back home to Mobile and she and Anthony began dating seriously. Six months later, he proposed the day after his birthday on December 21, 2013.
“I did it so she wouldn’t expect it,” Wallace said. “She was thinking the whole weekend was about me, and I was like, ‘Nah, this is gonna be about us.’”
Anthony and Chaniece were engaged for a year and a half. Chaniece applied, was accepted and enrolled in medical school. The two tied the knot on April 25, 2015. They lived in Birmingham while Chaniece was in medical school and then moved to Tuscaloosa shortly after they were married.
When it was time for Chaniece to find a residency to further her studies in pediatric medicine, she matched with Riley Hospital in Indiana. The same hospital where she had completed her internship four years prior. Anthony, an educator licensed to teach both elementary school and high school, supported his wife’s career. In 2017, the couple moved to Indianapolis where Chaniece began her residency.
At this time, Anthony and Chaniece enjoyed being newlyweds. But by the end of 2019 both of them had been bitten by the baby bug.
“We made a decision that we’re gonna let God do his thing,” Wallace said. “It was like whatever happens, happens.”
Just a few months later the couple was pregnant. Anthony said they conceived around Valentine’s Day 2020. Their baby girl was due to arrive in November, but she came early.
On October 20, 2020, Chaniece went to the doctor for her third-trimester appointment when her provider noted that she was experiencing high blood pressure and that there was protein in her urine. She called Anthony, who was at work, to tell him that she was being admitted to the hospital. The doctors were concerned about the onset of preeclampsia.
“She asked me to come,” Wallace said. “I get there to the hospital and they’re trying to treat the high blood pressure.”
Chaniece was admitted to the hospital at 12:10 p.m. with “severe hypertension” according to the complaint filed by the Wallace family attorney. At the time Chaniece was not in pain and reported “normal fetal movement.” Doctors worked to treat Chaniece’s high blood pressure first with the medication Procardia. It remained high two hours after she was admitted to the hospital. When Chaniece complained of pain in her body she was given morphine. Just before 3 p.m. Chaniece was ordered to receive magnesium sulfate in her IV to further treat her blood pressure in hopes of bringing it down. She didn’t actually get the treatment until an hour later, nearly four hours after she arrived in the hospital. At 4:28 p.m. doctors spoke with Chaniece about having an emergency C-section.
They noted she was developing HELLP syndrome—a life-threatening pregnancy complication caused by high blood pressure considered to be a variant of preeclampsia.
Baby Charlotte was delivered at 4:38 p.m.
Anthony remembers being told that the C-section went well and that Chaniece would need to recover. It was during this recovery that Chaniece’s condition deteriorated. Her blood pressure dropped, as did her temperature. She was given more magnesium sulfate at 5:50 p.m. Over the course of the evening and into the night Chaniece was noted to have become hypotensive because of her now low blood pressure and to have hypothermia because of her low body temperature. She was noted as being drowsy and lethargic. She wasn’t eliminating waste from her body through her urine, which is the only way to remove magnesium from the body.
At 9.04 p.m. Chaniece was given Ativan, an anxiety medication. The complaint against the hospital records the administering of this drug as gross negligence.
Throughout the night Chaniece passed a large blood clot, her sodium levels were down, her magnesium levels were up, she remained drowsy with low blood pressure and a low body temperature. She drifted off to sleep in the middle of conversation and doctors had trouble finding reflexes in her legs. Chaniece was monitored throughout the night and into the next morning.
At 4:50 a.m. she was given more magnesium sulfate even though Chaniece had only made 100 milliliters of urine since her delivery twelve hours earlier. Her sodium level continued to drop. According to the complaint, it went “completely undiagnosed and untreated for 72 hours.”
The side effect of low sodium is brain swelling that results in brain death. At 5 p.m. on October 24, 2020, a brain scan showed that Chaniece was brain dead. She was pronounced deceased at 5:39 p.m.
The complaint against the hospital details the painstaking hours that Chaniece languished, dying slowly over the course of days with little attention paid to her low blood pressure, low sodium, magnesium toxicity, and more.
Anthony remembers being awakened the morning after his daughter was born on October 21, 2020, to a frenzy of doctors in the room.
“I felt helpless. I felt like, ‘What can I do to protect my wife?’ but everything was literally out of my control,” he said.
The last thing Anthony said to his wife was “I love you and I’ll be back in the morning.” Due to COVID protocols at the time he was not allowed to stay overnight at the hospital.
Chaniece’s death in 2020 was one of the nearly 700 deaths of people who die every year either during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. It did not matter that Chaniece was highly educated, a resident medical doctor — because as statistics show a Black woman with a college degree is more likely to die from giving birth than a white woman without a high school diploma. Chaniece’s death was one among the rising numbers of maternal mortality cases noted in 2020—the first year of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
During her pregnancy, Chaniece and Anthony discussed between them the Black maternal health crisis. They talked about the dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth for Black women. By that time the issue had been mainstream due in large part to the work of Charles Johnson, IV, the husband of the late Kira Johnson who died in 2016 after delivering her second child.
Johnson testified before Congress in 2018 about how he noticed blood in his wife’s catheter after her C-section. He watched his wife suffer for 10 hours before doctors took action. She died from massive internal bleeding. Her son was only 11 hours old.
Every statistic quoted in regards to the Black maternal health crisis represents a person, a family, someone who is loved and is missed. They have names: Kira Johnson, Chaniece Wallace, Sha’Asia Washington, Amber Issac…They have spouses, boyfriends, children, and their own parents who’ve outlived them.
“You don’t want to say the person who you said vows to, committed to, pictured growing old together, building a family together—you don’t want to accept that’s not your reality.”
These families, broken by childbirth, now must find a way through their grief advocating for their loved one who has passed while also advocating for themselves, their children, and all Black women so that the cycle may never continue.
“Every single day I have to accept and part of grief is . . . denial. You don’t want to accept it.” Wallace says. “You don’t want to say the person who you said vows to, committed to, pictured growing old together, building a family together—you don’t want to accept that’s not your reality. That everything you envisioned and that you wanted together is not going to happen anymore.”
During the course of the conversation with Anthony, his daughter Charlotte made an appearance. Sitting on her father’s lap looking at the screensaver of his cell phone she cooed and pointed out as she spoke: “Mama, Dada.” Anthony responded gently and with love, “You see, Mama and Dada? And who’s that? Charlotte.”
He said he plans to share as much about Chaniece with Charlotte as he can. A process that’s been painful in its own way.
He only recently replaced his wedding photos and engagement photos around the house and in Charlotte’s bedroom: “I had taken them down for a while because, for therapeutic reasons, they were just too hurtful, but now I’m in a place where I’m able to handle that.”
But in sharing his memories of Chaniece with Charlotte, Anthony also laments what his daughter will miss out on from not having her mother around — such as Chaniece’s love of ballet.
“That was one of the things that could have been an experience that they shared together, that she could expose her to,” he said.
Knowing that Chaniece is not going to be able to nurture Charlotte and love on her with maternal instinct hurts him every day. But his sorrow is also for himself: For the loss of his wife of only five years, though they were together for seven. It’s an ineffable feeling. One he believes others in their family don’t necessarily feel as intensely as he does.
“They miss her,” Anthony says, choking back tears, “but they don’t miss her the way I miss her.”
You can learn more about the health crisis facing Black moms and birthing people here.