LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Serena Williams made headlines last year, not only for her prowess on the tennis court but for talking about how she almost died after giving birth to her daughter. And it opened up a conversation about maternal health in the U.S. Thousands of women, especially black women, experience pregnancy-related complications, and about 700 women die every year from them, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now Williams, through her firm, Serena Ventures, has invested in Mahmee. It's a startup working to help women during the weeks and months after they've given birth, with the goal of reducing maternal deaths. CEO Melissa Hanna is one of the co-founders of Mahmee, and she joins me now. Hello.
MELISSA HANNA: Hi there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she is here with her mother, Linda Hanna. Linda is also a longtime nurse and lactation consultant. Hi.
LINDA HANNA: Hi.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Melissa, how did this come about? Why did you see a need for this?
M HANNA: It came about from watching my own mom work in this field and realizing that there was a limited set of tools available to professionals like herself to really create the impact that she wanted to have on mothers' and babies' lives. And we started talking about what could be done in the outpatient setting when patients are home with their families?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, give me an example. What are some of the complications that new mothers might face and how could this app help them?
M HANNA: Well, just in the past 12 months, we've had patients who've experienced severe blood loss and postpartum hemorrhaging. We've worked with families and with mothers that are experiencing prenatal anxiety. We were the first responders in a case of a patient who was experiencing suicidal ideations and hadn't reached out to anyone for help yet, wasn't sure if this was a normal part of being a new mom. She had a 2-week-old baby and reached out to talk to someone through the platform after taking the postpartum depression survey that was available to her on her patient dashboard scored really high and immediately flagged for additional assistance. And so Mahmee was able to step in and engage with her, verify these symptoms and immediately escalate this to the OB-GYN's attention, who had no idea she'd been struggling.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Linda, I mean, as someone who works in this space, that sounds like it's incredibly helpful.
L HANNA: It is. There's a huge gap between a mother delivering her baby, getting discharged from the hospital, oftentimes in a very quick fashion, and then not being seen again for a significant number of days, often trying to manage many times on their own. So we're trying to fill the gap between their last visit or their last time with a physician until they're seen again the next time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Linda, speaking of that gap, studies have shown that women of color are three times more likely to die of childbirth complications than white women in the U.S. Can you remind us why that is and what Mahmee is trying to do in closing that gap?
L HANNA: There is a huge gap in a population of people who do not either have access to the health care or that they don't believe anybody is going to listen or actually care. And that is the hardest part for us to try to get across that we actually are paying attention. We actually do care. We want to know how you're feeling. We want to be able to step in when somebody even reports just a feeling that they're having, that we don't tell people, oh, that's normal, oh, you're allowed to feel like that or that's a common feeling but actually address what they're feeling immediately. We don't let days go by or time go by. We want to talk to them. We reach out to them. And we want them to also know that they can reach out to us and that nothing ever is going to be a problem.
M HANNA: Yeah. Just to speak directly to the stats that you mentioned, when we look at reports around pain management and support and care that's provided to black women in particular, there's a huge discrepancy in how patients are cared for. I think that a very important part of this whole story that often gets overlooked is how broken the overall system is. You've got your OB taking care of Mom, the pediatrician taking care of baby and a number of other professionals who are often out of network for new families. And then you add into that a layer of really sort of systemic racism and bias in the way that we listen to the concerns and the challenges that black and brown families are facing. And it just becomes these insurmountable odds for these families.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously because of what happened to her, you came to her attention. How did you connect with Serena Williams?
M HANNA: We connected with Serena Williams through Arlan Hamilton, who's a longtime investor and advocate for Mahmee. Arlan had been working with Serena and sharing some deals and saw Mahmee as something that might be of interest to her.
L HANNA: So this is Linda. I insisted that I wouldn't actually take money or have anybody investing who didn't really understand myself and Melissa first. And I'd like to meet everyone. And so she agreed, and she saw us on the screen. We were doing a video call. And she saw that I was a Caucasian woman and my daughter was a mixed race girl, and she almost started crying. So that's kind of how we originally met her. Then we got the privilege of meeting her in person, which was incredible. And just getting to know her a little bit was really wonderful.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Linda Hanna and Melissa Hanna, the co-founders of Mahmee - that's spelled M-A-H-M-E-E - a new maternal health care platform supported by Serena Williams. Thank you both very much.
M HANNA: Thank you.
L HANNA: You're welcome. Thank you.
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