The major health complications that Serena Williams battled after giving birth to her now-5-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia has inspired the tennis champion to speak out about the importance of affordable health care.
Williams, 36, said she “almost died” after giving birth to her first child on Sept. 1. Her heart rate plummeted to dangerously low levels during contractions, causing doctors to perform an emergency cesarean section.
Though the surgery went well, what followed was a six-day battle with a pulmonary embolism (a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot) that led to multiple surgeries and a handful of additional medical troubles for the new mom.
Want all the latest pregnancy and birth announcements, plus celebrity mom blogs? Click here to get those and more in the PEOPLE Babies newsletter.
“I am lucky to have survived,” Williams recalled. “First my c-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen.”
“And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs,” she explained. “When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.”
As bad as that was, Williams said she was appreciative of the medical support she received. “I am so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment,” she wrote. “They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren’t for their professional care, I wouldn’t be here today.”
And around the world, those numbers are worse. “When [mothers] have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them,” Williams wrote.
“If they don’t want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy,” she added. “Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them.”
According to The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2.6 million newborns die before their lives even really get started, Williams quoted. Over 80 percent die from preventable causes.
“We know simple solutions exist, like access to midwives and functional health facilities, along with breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, clean water, basic drugs and good nutrition,” Williams wrote. “Yet we are not doing our part. We are not rising to the challenge to help the women of the world.”
There are solutions — including recruiting and training doctors and midwifes, making the top 10 lifesaving drugs and equipment available and more.
And Williams, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is hoping her fans will help donate to UNICEF and other organizations to help “demand governments, businesses and health care providers do more to save these precious lives.”
“Together, we can make this change,” she wrote. “Together, we can be the change.”