Northwestern medical school alumnus and Northwestern family medicine physician Samara Taher, ’06 MD, and her husband Ajay David recently made a generous commitment to launch a research fund that will contribute to understanding and preventing preeclampsia while honoring the memory of their baby daughter Dessa, who was born in January 2018 and passed away in February 2018.
“Dessa was 25 weeks and four days old, and did wonderfully in the neonatal intensive care unit for a little over a month,” shared Dr. Taher. “I had her via caesarean section due to severe preeclampsia in the second trimester. A sudden infection from a condition that can afflict preemies unfortunately ended her life. My husband and I are so proud of our daughter and how amazingly resilient she was. Dessa was such a personality and a favorite of all the nurses at Prentice Hospital’s NICU. I really wanted to start a fund to remember her. It is because of Dessa that I have thought so much about saving women’s lives and saving babies’ lives,” she said.
An Urgent Need to Better Prevent, Diagnose, and Treat Preeclampsia
“We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Taher, Mr. David, and their friends and family for supporting our efforts to study preeclampsia so we can gain new knowledge that can lead to better prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Their foresight and generosity will help us to address a very important problem that unfortunately impacts so many families,” said Alan Peaceman, MD, chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“Preeclampsia is a condition that only occurs during pregnancy and is marked by high blood pressure, swelling, and kidney dysfunction in the mother. Currently, there are no treatments available for preeclampsia other than delivery of the fetus and placenta,” said Dr. Peaceman. “Until we have better predictive tools for preeclampsia and effective treatment, we must do our best to prolong pregnancies so babies are not born as prematurely.”
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, it is estimated that preeclampsia affects about 4 percent of pregnancies in the United States. Worldwide, preeclampsia and related conditions are among the leading causes of maternal mortality. Although preeclampsia occurs primarily in first pregnancies, a woman who had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy is seven times more likely to develop preeclampsia in a later pregnancy.
Dr. Taher and Mr. David made the initial investment to establish the Dessa Taher David Preeclampsia Research Fund at Northwestern and are now engaging their own network of family, friends, and beyond to help increase the size and impact of this fund.
“Currently, the treatment for preeclampsia is just careful monitoring. If after monitoring it’s determined that things are going in a stable direction, they typically will deliver the baby around 34 weeks. If things are not going in a stable direction, the treatment is still to deliver the baby, and that can be a life and death thing,” said Dr. Taher.
“Since Northwestern has such a big research focus that is looking at secondary prevention of preeclampsia, we wanted to be able to help fund that,” she continued. “We would love to see some headway in terms of a method for either prevention or treatment, just so the outcomes are better for both the mother and the baby. When you talk to other women, a lot of them have stories or know people who have experienced preeclampsia, but it’s not talked about. I think it is a lot more prevalent than we think it is, and there just isn’t the knowledge yet. We need to start drawing attention to preeclampsia as an issue,” she said.
According to Dr. Peaceman, Northwestern is one of 13 academic sites currently participating in a national research consortium. As part of this consortium, there is a clinical trial underway that is studying the use of a cholesterol-lowering medication in pregnant women who have had preeclampsia in prior pregnancies.
“These and other investigations are moving us in a promising direction,” Dr. Peaceman said. “Private support is so crucial in propelling these types of studies because the number of grants from national funders, like the National Institutes of Health and others, are limited by their budgets. And, even with external grants in place, we still need to cover 30 percent of the actual cost of the research through other sources of support,” he said.
“Nothing can replace our Tiny Giant Dessa,” said Dr. Taher. “We want her life and everything she went through, however, to bring about a means to prevent something like this from happening to other families.”
For more information about supporting the Dessa Taher David Preeclampsia Research Fund, please contact Jordan Sund at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 503-2706.