LINCOLN, Neb. -- May is National Preeclampsia Awareness Month.
Stephanie Reikofski is the chair for the Nebraska Promise Walk for Preeclampsia. She's organizing the event after losing her sister Jeni to HELLP syndrome--just hours after she gave birth. HELLP stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, & Low Platelets. It’s a variation of preeclampsia. And while you may not have heard of preeclampsia or HELLP, disorders like these effect 5-8% of all pregnancies in the U.S. Sadly, they claim the lives of 76,000 mothers globally each year.
Reikofski said, "It was just one of those things you hear in passing so I didn't worry about it. I mean, the biggest thing I was worried about is is the baby going to be okay? How's the labor going to go? That sort of thing. I never even thought of preeclampsia."
Preeclampsia affects women while they’re pregnant or even after birth. It can cause problems with a mom’s liver, kidneys, even her brain. The hallmarks of preeclampsia are high blood pressure and protein in the mother’s urine. But today, doctors still don't know what causes preeclampsia, and there’s no cure. In fact, the only known treatment is birth.
"People often get stuck on this myth that delivery is the cure for preeclampsia and that is not true. Delivery is a treatment but it is not instantly and always halt what's happening," said Eleni Tsigas the CEO for the Preeclampsia Foundation.
Tsigas is a two-time preeclampsia survivor and understands the dangers of the disorder firsthand.
"Blood pressure In this day in age is so rampant, so many people have high blood pressure, a lot of them are on medication for it, their medication controls it," said Tsigas.
"As a society we need to recognize that high blood pressure in and around pregnancy is not your mother's blood pressure or your father's blood pressure. It is a serious life-threatening situation. These women are having strokes or they're having hemorrhages, uncontrollable hemorrhages. All of these things are due to high blood pressure."
The Foundation works to educate patients and to improve healthcare procedures based on what is known - but says research is key.
"We still don't know what causes this. We still don't have a treatment other than delivering a baby, which is not a great treatment if that baby is not ready to be born yet. So research is a parallel part of this mission where we need to drive research forward and get better answers," Tsigas added.
That’s why Jeni’s family has gotten involved in the promise walk - the Preeclampsia Foundation's signature fundraising event. They’re walking and raising money for research in hopes that someday preeclampsia won’t be a life-threatening condition...
"It's important to me to raise awareness about how preeclampsia because I don't want to see another family have to live without a mom without a wife without a sister or daughter. My sister was so excited to be a mom," said Reikofski.