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Dr. Karen Florio and Saint Luke’s Maternal Fetal Medicine: Helping High-Risk Mothers and Babies

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She’s been there and done that.

For Dr. Karen Florio, DO, a team member of the Saint Luke’s Maternal Fetal Medicine program, dealing with a high-risk pregnancy is a very personal issue.

She struggled with preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure with the potential of damaging organ systems, often the kidneys. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman whose blood pressure has been normal. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious and fatal complications for the mother and baby.

Empathy and Experience
“I was a high-risk pregnancy. When I was carrying my son, I was admitted five separate times with multiple interventions. Rocco was born nine weeks early, and we were both in ICU. He weighed 3.8 pounds and was only 15 inches long,” Dr. Florio recalled. “After giving birth via C-section, I went home three days later, while Rocco was there five weeks. It was traumatic, but it helped me become a better caregiver, relating better to my patients.”

Now, Rocco is heading for his fourth birthday, as healthy as any child his age, and his mother cares for high-risk mothers and fetuses at Saint Luke’s. She’s part of an extensive team of maternal-fetal medicine specialists, caring for women with high-risk and complicated pregnancies in a compassionate and supportive environment. The staff includes doctors who are board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. The team provides patient care to four Saint Luke’s Health System hospitals in Kansas City.

Extending Specialized Medicine
“There is nothing harder in the world than being an intensive care patient with a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit. The sense of helplessness is overwhelming,” she recalled. “What drives me is helping mothers stay pregnant as long as it’s safe. If we can add an extra week in utero, and not in NICU, I’ve done a better job for those parents.”

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists, such as Dr. Florio, collaborate with obstetricians and other primary care providers to help mothers and fetuses through high-risk and complicated pregnancies. Working with the mother, they provide consultation, co-management and direction of care before conception, during and after pregnancy.

“High risk can relate to the baby and the mother, so we consistently have two patients to worry about,” commented Dr. Florio. “The treatment regimen depends on each situation and the maternal and fetal status. Typically, we’ll see the mother more often and monitor the baby more closely.”

A patient Dr. Florio is helping through a difficult pregnancy is Erica Ruzicka, of Riverside, Missouri. Because she’s over 35 and having identical twins, she’s considered a double high risk. But Dr. Florio and her teammates are guiding Erika and her husband through it. “We always feel like we are getting straight, honest and informative answers and know what to expect from one appointment to the next,” shared Erika. “I feel like they are just a phone call away and encourage me to call whenever I’m concerned and/or something doesn’t feel right.”

Examining Multiple Factors
Many times diabetes, preeclampsia, age and other factors impact high-risk mothers. Now, Dr. Florio and her teammates are studying heart disease and its bearing on a mother. In fact, Saint Luke’s Heart Disease in Pregnancy program is at the forefront of this expanding medical research.

“In the Midwest, there’s a large burden of heart disease, and more women of child-bearing age are being impacted,” remarked Dr. Florio. “Cardiac changes during pregnancy can strain the heart, perhaps tipping the patient over the edge. We take it very seriously and care for those mothers in a specialized setting. We’re also advancing heart disease research in a clinical project to help provide information to others.”

Delivering Healthy Babies
Fellow Saint Luke’s staff members describe Dr. Florio as very devoted to mothers who are at high risk or who were told they couldn’t have a successful birth. She fights for them to deliver a healthy baby. Her competitive spirit was honed on the softball diamond at the University of Missouri, winning All-American honors. Playing from 1997 to 2001, her batting average of .427 in the lead-off position and her ability to play center field enhanced her skillset as a doctor. “Sports teach you how to be a team player, and I bring that into work every day,” she stated. “I rely on a team to take care of these patients because this is a multi-disciplinary approach for high-risk pregnancies.”

The team at Saint Luke’s prides itself on helping at-risk mothers understand all options available to them during their pregnancy. But planning the birth of your children can alleviate many concerns.

“Pregnancy begins before you get pregnant. You must plan for it, especially for those with underlying medical issues that could seriously impact you,” noted Dr. Florio. “Many women have been told that a pregnancy might be too dangerous for them. But you need to seek out a maternal fetal specialist and determine the right course. Misinformation is out there, so utilize us. Schedule a preconception consultation to know what to expect.” ■

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