November 30, 2020

Father’s story of his partner’s death echoes issues Black women face in birthing

May 12.

It is the day, 29 years ago, that Bruce McIntyre was born.

And it is the day, four months ago, that he buried his partner, Amber Rose Isaac.

Isaac, 26, died delivering her son through a cesarean section, six weeks before her due date, and four days after tweeting that her doctors were incompetent and racist.

“If Amber was white, Amber would be here,” McIntyre said. “Amber would have got standard care if she were white. Amber did not receive standard care, and that’s the problem.”

Black women are 2½ times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. And experts say institutional racism is to blame.

Education makes little difference.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that compared death rates by education found that Black women with at least a college degree fared better, but were still 5.2 times more likely to die than white women with the same education.

Bruce McIntyre and Amber Isaac.

Bruce McIntyre and Amber Isaac.
Contributed

Isaac, a teacher in Lutheran Social Services of New York’s Early LIFE program, pursuing her graduate degree in business management at Concordia College in Bronxville, knew this. She was prepared.

It didn’t matter.

Doctors ignored her. The hospital failed her.

After three months of apathetic telemedicine visits and lost lab results, doctors diagnosed Isaac with a rare blood disease that hinders clotting. 

They realized her life was in danger, and decided to induce. 

The induction failed.

Isaac needed a C-section. Because it was an emergency, they put her under general anesthesia — and McIntyre was not allowed to be with her as she gave birth.

They made the incision. Amber’s heart stopped.

She died, without her partner, without her mother.

“She coded immediately,” McIntyre said. “Her blood was like water at this point. 

“She bled out. She died as soon as they cut her open.”

‘If Amber was white, Amber would be here’: A father’s message after his son’s mother died

Bruce McIntyre shares the story of how his girlfriend, Amber Rose Isaac, died delivering their son through a c-section in April.

Tania Savayan, [email protected]

Isaac wasn’t the kind of person who tolerated failure.

Isaac was an advocate of self-care. She loved listening to music. She vibed to Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Solange. She grooved to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. She was an artist who loved art in multiple forms — Amber both loved to look at paintings and to paint; she loved writing and reading poetry.

Above all, she was a warm, caring and loving person.

“She wanted to start a program for underprivileged families, for children,” McIntyre said. “She wanted (to) open up a school. … (She was) very passionate about the community and very, very passionate about children.”

Combining her psychology degree, her master’s degree and her art background, Amber planned to create an art therapy program for children, and then decided to start an early life program for underprivileged mothers and children.

“She was an innovator. She was an out-of-the-box thinker. She had always done things that other people wouldn’t think of,” he said. “She found ways to have the kids cooperate in certain activities that weren’t (interesting) to them. Sometimes it’s hard to gain a child’s attention, especially at such an early age, but Amber was able to do it.”

McIntyre had known Amber for about 12 years, though, for most of that time, they were just friends. McIntyre divided his time between North Carolina and the Bronx, while Amber was in school.

About six years ago, he asked Amber on a date, but she turned him down. She was focused on her education.

When Amber graduated from college, she invited him to her ceremony. After that, they went out, and, from then on, they were together.

In August of last year, Amber decided she was ready for her first child. McIntyre knows the exact date that Amber made the decision: Aug. 11.

They went out to Brooklyn, to Smorgasburg, the food-vendor market. Afterward, the couple ambled through Prospect Zoo. While looking at the animals, they talked about their lives and their future plans.

As they were heading back to McIntyre’s car, they noticed a bookstore. Amber, who loved to read, wanted to go in and get a new book.

“She (saw) this rap, hip hop book for babies,” McIntyre said. “It had little baby Tupac, little baby Biggie, little baby Kendrick — and she looked at me and she said, ‘We are not leaving without this book.'”

From there, the couple started talking about families. They decided it was time to start their own. By September, Amber was pregnant.

As soon as she found out that she was going to become a mother, she bought books on parenting, McIntyre said. “She was doing a lot of reading in regards to how to raise a healthy baby, how to raise a healthy child.”

Amber became even more conscious about her health when she found out she was going to be a mother. She wanted to make her own baby food. The couple purchased a baby food processor and a book about organics for babies and infants.

Amber, a pescatarian, became a vegan as soon as she became pregnant. McIntyre believes that Amber’s self-care is the reason their baby is so healthy.

“Amber was more hip to maternal mortality and racism when it came to maternal health,” said McIntyre. “I wasn’t too familiar with it, but I was very familiar with what was going on here in America and systemic racism. But not too much when it came to maternal health. I thought we were safe.”

The trouble started in January, when Amber was feeling weak and fatigued. It was sometimes hard for her to breathe and she was dizzy.

By February, the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming a threat, but Amber was still going to work. 

Bruce McIntyre holds his son, Elias McIntyre, at home in the Bronx. Bruce's partner, Amber Isaac, pictured in the image behind them, died delivering her son through a C-section after doctors failed to diagnose a rare blood disorder. "She coded immediately," McIntyre said.

Bruce McIntyre holds his son, Elias McIntyre, at home in the Bronx. Bruce’s partner, Amber Isaac, pictured in the image behind them, died delivering her…
Bruce McIntyre holds his son, Elias McIntyre, at home in the Bronx. Bruce’s partner, Amber Isaac, pictured in the image behind them, died delivering her son through a C-section after doctors failed to diagnose a rare blood disorder. “She coded immediately,” McIntyre said.
Tania Savayan/The Journal News

“There are kids who are coming to school sick — sick with no doctor’s notes, which is against policy,” McIntyre said. “Amber had to deal with that. These kids are coughing on her, wiping saliva on her. She’s having to pick them up (and) they’re kicking her in her stomach. She has to carry them up and down stairs sometimes — mind you she’s having shortness of breath at this time.”

Amber told her OB-GYN at Montefiore Moses in the Bronx what was happening, and asked for help getting early family medical leave.

“Amber’s voicing her concern because it’s really becoming a problem, it’s affecting her everyday life now,” McIntyre said. He said that Instead of her OB-GYN writing her concerns down on the Family Medical Leave Act application, her OB-GYN just put down on the paper, “Amber wants to leave for personal reasons.”

Black maternity stories shared

Women and doctors share their stories of Black maternity

Amber’s early FMLA was denied. The couple tried the process again. Eventually, the OB-GYN said that they would need to appoint a high-risk doctor in order to file an early FMLA.

“They didn’t appoint her to a high-risk doctor because of what Amber was feeling — she appointed her to a high-risk doctor just so she could get the forms filled out,” McIntyre said.

Isaac never met with the high risk doctor. Doctors canceled a high-risk appointment and rescheduled it for April 24 — three days after she died.

The couple had had blood work done on Feb. 24, the day after Amber’s birthday.

Despite repeatedly checking her patient portal, and calling and calling to ask for results, she never saw them. Doctors told her she’d developed anemia, and told her to take iron pills.

“Amber was very frustrated, so that’s actually the day that she tweeted what she tweeted about wanting to write a tell-all about the incompetence and the negligence that she’s dealt with, with the health care system at Montefiore. That was the day she did that.”

When they finally examined the lab results, doctors diagnosed Amber with HELLP syndrome, a rare medical condition that involves hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. HELLP can also cause blood clotting that can lead to hemorrhaging.

Doctors told the couple they wanted to bring Amber in for treatment. She went to the hospital on April 18.

“So we get there. Amber’s very scared at this point,” McIntyre said. “She doesn’t want to go by herself. She doesn’t want to be by herself in the hands of them.”

@adriawalkr or send her an email at [email protected] This reporting is made possible by readers like you. Thank you for signing up today for a digital subscription.


The team behind this story

REPORTING: Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, Adria Walker, Ashley
Biviano

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Tania Savayan, Anne Marie Caruso, Joe Lamberti

PHOTO EDITORS: Carrie Yale, Sean Oates, Magdeline Bassett

EDITORS:
Liz Johnson, Dan Sforza

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:
Spencer Holladay, Maddi Ference, Phil Strum, Annette Meade

PRINT PRODUCTION:
Scott Muller, Michael Babin

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