Black Infants in the East Bay Are Experiencing Higher Negative Health Outcomes

Written by Sarah Hoenicke, with videos and additional reporting by Sarah Cahlan, and photos by Drew Costley

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After her frightening experience with the preterm birth of her son, Tanisha Fuller became a doula. Photo by Drew Costley.

While she was carrying her third child, Tanisha Fuller had to convince her hospital caretakers that something was really wrong. It was 2003, she was six months pregnant, and she was unsure of what was happening to her. The Richmond resident had rushed to the emergency room at Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley with pain in her back, feeling like she couldn’t breathe. At the hospital, she was told that it was “probably gas,” she said, given a Tylenol, and told to lie down in the examination room.

She asked for an X-ray. Looking back, she isn’t sure why. “It had to be God,” she said.

“They did it, and came rushing out,” Fuller said. Someone told her, “‘Your lung collapsed. Let’s get you into surgery.'” The medical staff placed a breathing tube in her chest; she ended up needing to use one until she delivered.

At the time, nobody told her that the complications from her lung meant her baby was in danger of being born “preterm” — before 37 weeks of pregnancy had been completed. She just knew that she needed to get to three different appointments each week: one with a high-risk doctor, one with a pulmonologist, and one for a stress test. Though she had two other kids at home — ages 6 and 1 — was working, and didn’t have a car, Fuller didn’t miss a single appointment.

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