Semple's fiance Juwan Lopez, dad Dennis Semple and family attorney Rose M. Day. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Dennis Semple lifts his face to the sky and weeps. It has been five weeks since his daughter Sha-Asia Semple died in childbirth at Bed-Stuy’s Woodhull Medical Center, and the pain has not subsided.

“Every day I wake up and I cry,” he said outside the center Thursday. “I just want justice for my daughter. I love my granddaughter, but my daughter is gone.”

Sha-Asia Semple died after going into the hospital July 2, a few days after her due date, for a routine stress test. After the hospital saw the 26-year-old’s blood pressure was abnormally high, she was given a medication to induce labor and then an epidural. Her healthy baby Khloe was delivered via c-section, but Semple died after going into cardiac arrest.

Her fiance, Juwan Lopez, is now raising their daughter as a single dad. Mom Rayshema Washington said she wants Woodhull closed. “It’s not just for my daughter; it’s for all of the women who this has happened to.”

NYC public advocate Jumaane Williams comforts Sha-Asia Semple’s fiance Juwan Lopez. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Semple’s death has tragically put a spotlight on the inequities of the maternal health system for Black women.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Semple’s loved ones, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Representative Yvette Clarke and local maternal health advocates demanded more be done to address Black maternal morbidity, saying Semple must not just be another statistic.

Sha-Asia’s parents Dennis Semple and Rayshema Washington. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Black women in the United States are more than three times more likely to die due to pregnancy or childbirth than white women, and about 60% of those deaths are preventable, according to CDC data. The trend is not new, and not enough has been done to correct it, Williams said.

“These numbers are out there, they’ve been out there,” he said. “This pain represents a lot of families.” He said, while the recent focus was on the NYPD budget, many other budgets were cut, including in healthcare.

Congresswoman Clarke said the numbers clearly showing Black women getting subpar maternal healthcare were “atrocious” and underreported. “This is a silent issue we can no longer be silent about,” she said. “We have to believe Black women when they say they feel pain, we should add extra precautions when we see they are in distress.”

Sha-Asia and Juwan were due to be married. Photo: Instagram / @nationalblackdoulas

Eleven bills have been introduced federally this year to improve maternal health outcomes and tackle the stark racial disparities in care. One of those is the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, which calls for a task force to tackle the issues, more funding for community services and improved data.

Brooklyn Perinatal Network Deputy Executive Director Denise West said her organization was working right here in our community to address the system “rooted in racism and inequality.” The network champions greater access to healthcare — and says this should be happening well before a pregnant woman needs to visit the hospital. It said more funding needed to go to community-based organizations to reach women before the point of emergency.

The family appeared with personal injury attorney Rose M. Day, of Day & Associates, P.C. who said it was vital the United States secured a safer place for Black women giving birth.

Afterwards, she told the BK Reader no case had been filed against the hospital, and she was not at liberty to say whether one was in the works. “Let me tell you this was avoidable, and it’s a system that needs to be held accountable and we will make sure it is accountable to this family.”

Semple’s fiance Juwan Lopez, dad Dennis Semple and family attorney Rose M. Day. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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  1. The problem is highlighted; yet, the current advances of todays medical technological renaissance will cause the disparity to become much greater.
    As reported in the media, Ms. Washingtons tragic death outlines complications related to epidural anesthesia. The epidural technique used on Ms. Washington, and in most American hospitals, was a tactile technique that was developed in the 1920s with a 160-year old manual syringe. Current medical technology advances of the CompuFlo instrumentation have a 99% success rate on first attempt, versus the technique used on Ms. Washington which has a 73% success rate. Modern medical technology gives objective identification and confirmation of the epidural space in real time, 100% of the time. If this complication was due to the epidural anesthesia, Ms. Washington’s death was preventable.
    The time it will take for this new technology to trickle down to woman of color is too long to be acceptable. How many more complications and deaths will need to occur before improving patient care for all is the priority?
    Abraham Scheer, M.D.
    Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
    Board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, in Adult Neurology with special qualification in Child Neurology
    Board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, in Brain Injury Medicine
    [email protected]

  2. This Hospital is the most corrput place on earth. You can see the only operating body is the emergency room yet they claim they have 171 beds they are trying to expand claiming they are a good hospital for pediatrics where is the justice? where are the people having positive births at this hospital, I think there are none. We should be more aware of a hospitals operating bodys not just the claims on the internet. The hospitla has nothing but death circulating, no positive reviews. no clean standards. No articulate staff, and most importantly, no doctors speaking for what happened. This place is solicitating prostitution and covering it up. I was one of few survivors who knows how they use the ambulances to intake sick or unwell people to impatient services and never allow them to speak to anyone on the outside, also I believe they are involved in placing drugs on the streets and crime through their nearby pharmacy. Where there is no positivity in any of there reviews except from their uneducated staff, and they are lying saying they they care for children of brooklyn. I saw nothing but African Americans being targeted there especially African American Women for cruel healthcare practices, against fertility, and the doctors men working there are being pursued for sexual harassment crimes most of them.. if they aren’t they all should be. Shut this place down or continue to allow them to manage the amount of health in African American or Minority Communities of Brooklyn.

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