Too deeply attached: The rise of placenta accreta

November 26, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Photo of Maya Adam, Stanford Medicine Magazine

Maya Adam and her son, Milan, at home.
(Photo by Leslie Williamson, courtesy of Stanford Medicine Magazine)

The article below, from the fall 2013 edition of Stanford Medicine Magazine, presents the story of Maya Adam, a member of the Stanford community who was treated for placenta accreta at Stanford Hospital. During her surgery, she received 22 units of blood, more than 7 liters total. One of her doctors said that she lost more than two times her normal blood volume.

This Thanksgiving, Maya has a special message for the blood donors in her community: “To the blood donors who helped keep our family intact, you will never know how much your gift has meant to us. We thank you with all our hearts.”


By Erin Digitale, Writer for Stanford School of Medicine’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs

Before her third son was born in 2010, Maya Adam had to face a possibility modern medicine has made almost obsolete: She could bleed to death before or during delivery. A rare defect in her placenta left both Adam and her fetus vulnerable to sudden, fatal hemorrhage.

“We made a video for our two older boys in case they needed it as their final memory,” Adam says, recalling the compilation of family photos and video that she and her husband, Lawrence Seeff, assembled for sons Kiran, then 5, and Misha, then 2, near the end of her pregnancy. The family lives in Menlo Park, Calif., where Seeff invests in startup companies and Adam, a physician by training, teaches child health and nutrition at Stanford. Months earlier, when they decided to have a third child, Adam and Seeff never considered that Kiran and Misha might be left without a mother. “We had plenty of love and resources to give,” Adam says. “You just don’t think that you’re playing roulette with the stability of the older children’s lives.”

Adam’s situation, unusual as it is, reflects a growing problem in obstetric medicine. She had placenta accreta, in which the placenta, the organ that connects the pregnant woman to her fetus, attaches with dangerous tenacity to the uterus. Sometimes — as in Adam’s case — it grows through the uterine wall and invades other organs. Once vanishingly rare, with only one in 30,000 pregnancies affected in the 1950s, placenta accreta now hits around one in 500 pregnancies. Up to 7 percent of placenta accreta patients die of the disease. Scientists have linked the increase in cases to rising caesarean rates, but the exact mechanism of the disease — a conversation gone awry between the placenta and the uterus — remains profoundly mysterious.

Visit the Stanford Medicine Magazine website to read the full article