In April 2016, Kira Johnson showed up for her scheduled caesarean section at the renowned Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to deliver her second child with husband Charles Johnson.
The procedure took just 17 minutes.
Less than 12 hours later, the 39-year-old was dead of a massive internal injury ― doctors found three liters of blood in her abdomen.
This week, Charles Johnson filed a civil rights lawsuit against the hospital, saying that he believes he has proof the staff treated his wife with less care because she was Black.
“There is a culture of racism that is rampant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,” Johnson said at a press conference Wednesday.
Johnson and his lawyers say they learned about a shocking disparity in the standard of care given to white women compared with women of color as part of his pending wrongful death lawsuit against the facility, because they were able to question experts and hospital employees under oath. The wrongful death case is expected to go to trial next week in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that my wife would be here today, and be here Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with her boys, if she was a caucasian woman,” Johnson said. “The reality is that on April 12, 2016, when we walked into Cedars-Sinai hospital for what we expected to be the happiest day of our lives, the greatest risk factor that Kira Dixon Johnson faced was racism.”
According to the lawsuit, Kira Johnson was in good health before walking into Cedars-Sinai. She was also accomplished: Charles has said in past interviews that his wife spoke five languages, was a licensed pilot, a marathon runner and had gone skydiving solo.
After her C-section, Kira felt intense pain in her abdomen and her family noticed blood in her catheter, so they alerted her doctor, who ordered a CT scan. But the scan never happened. Begging medical staff to tend to her produced no results for hours.
At one point, Charles Johnson said Wednesday, a nurse told him, “Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.”
C-sections normally take around an hour, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, with most of the time spent stitching up the mother’s body after the baby is delivered. In Kira’s case, her bladder had been sliced during the procedure and not properly closed, allowing her to bleed internally for hours. When she was finally taken away for surgery, doctors were not able to save her.
Health disparities between Black women and white women are, according to one 2021 study in the Journal of Women’s Health, believed to be “a reflection of the inequalities experienced by Black women on a host of social and economic measures.” Black women are two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notes that many of these deaths are preventable.
Johnson said that the civil rights suit was about “so much more than Kira.”
“It is about sending a loud, definitive message that institutions like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center can no longer prey on Black and brown families without consequence,” he said.