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The Breakthrough: Reporting on Life and Death in the Delivery Room

ProPublica reporter Nina Martin and her team used social media and old-fashioned shoe leather to show how the U.S. has the worst maternal death rate in the developed world.

In the cellphone video, 33-year-old Lauren Bloomstein looks perfectly healthy, radiant even. She is in a hospital room, cradling her newborn baby as her eyes well — a portrait of the miracle of new motherhood.

Hours later, she is dead.

Bloomstein succumbed to preeclampsia, a treatable condition estimated to affect some 200,000 women a year in the U.S.

ProPublica reporter Nina Martin joined NPR’s Renee Montagne and ProPublica’s engagement team to put Bloomstein’s death into a larger context in the story, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth.” Through their reporting, the team explained how the U.S. health care system sometimes focuses so intently on babies that it ignores mothers, leading to hundreds of preventable deaths every year, from pregnancy to months after birth. They’re still collecting these women’s stories.

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Photo: Bryan Anselm for ProPublica

On today’s episode of the Breakthrough, Martin describes how she and the team produced the project. She tells us how they scoured Facebook and the crowdfunding website Go Fund Me to find cases of pregnant women and new mothers who perished; how they made dozens of cold calls on a subject that’s beyond sensitive; how the women’s relatives and friends often could not bear to revisit such tragedy.

Finally, she describes how Lauren’s husband, Larry Bloomstein, took the extraordinary step of inviting the reporters into his home, where he recounted his wife’s death with documents and details, and shared that devastating video.

“It was a really shattering moment,” Martin said.

Hear how it all came together on the Breakthrough, the ProPublica podcast where investigative reporters reveal how they nailed their biggest stories.

Have an idea for an episode? Email us your suggestions at [email protected].

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher.

The music for this podcast is from Blue Dot Sessions and​ Jason Leonard.​

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