Tori Bowie was a world-famous track and field star who won three medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio: a gold medal in 4X100 meter relay, a silver medal in 100 meters and a bronze medal in 200 meters. She also won gold medals in 100 meters and the 4×100 meter relay at the 2017 London World Championships, and a bronze medal in 100 meters at the 2015 Beijing World Championships.
At age 32, on May 2, 2023, her dead body was found in her home and her autopsy reported that she had died several days earlier during labor, possibly from eclampsia. The autopsy also listed her medical history of bipolar disorder. Her body and organs were reported to be normal, with no evidence of foul play, and no drugs were found in her body. She had been in her eighth month of pregnancy and weighed only 96 pounds. (She was 5’9″ and had weighed 130 pounds when she was racing).
What is Eclampsia?
Eclampsia is a rare complication of pregnancy that usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy and affects fewer than three in a thousand pregnant women (PLoS Med, 2019 Mar; 16(3): e1002775). A woman is at increased risk for eclampsia if she is over 35 or under 17, African American, obese, in her first pregnancy, has diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, has multiple births, has family history of eclampsia, or has an autoimmune disorder. The main treatment is to deliver the baby as soon as is reasonable. (Obstet Gynecol, 2013;122(5):1122-1131).
The cause of eclampsia is unknown, but it usually starts as high blood pressure during pregnancy, with headaches, belly pain, swelling of the hands and face and loss of vision, blurred vision, double vision, or missing areas in the visual field. I do not have access to Bowie’s medical records, so I do not know if she had any of these problems, but her low weight alone would have caused alarm that this was a difficult, high risk pregnancy.
Her History of Mental Health Problems
I also do not have access to records of the tests that led to her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but medications and support groups are available for people with serious emotional problems. However, these people often do not seek help or refuse help and suffer severe consequences from their not getting appropriate treatments.
Bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings, affects 4.4 percent of North Americans and causes 83 percent of people with this condition to suffer severe disruption of their lives (ABC News online, August 18,2023). The heading of this ABC article was “Olympic champ Tori Bowie’s mental health struggles were no secret inside track’s tight-knit family.” It appears that Bowie had not sought or accepted help from family, friends, her Olympic contacts or other available medical sources, and she had told friends that she would not have her baby delivered in a hospital.
Bowie had given lots of clues that she needed help.
• Three weeks before she died, she was living without any electricity in her home.
• She was seen sleeping on the floor of a local recreation center, and on a park bench with groceries near her feet
• The U.S. Olympic committee was called. They called the USA Track and Field Committee who called Bowie’s agent. However, nothing was done.
• In April 2023, a lawsuit had been filed against her seeking foreclosure on her Winter Garden, Florida, house because she had not paid any bills for seven months.
What We Can Learn From This
People who suffer from emotional problems do not always react in a way that most people expect them to react. They often show anger when no anger is indicated. So many people argue with them or avoid them completely. This often causes them to withdraw from society and become loners, which only worsens their despair and markedly increases their risk for harming themselves. When people are nasty to you for no obvious reason, try to be nice to them or try to get them medical help. Resources include:
• National Alliance for Mental Health 1-800-950-NAMI (6264),
• SAMHSA’s National Help line – 24/7 free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery. Call 1-800-662-HELP.
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration 1-800-985-5990.
• National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): (866) 615-6464.
August 27, 1990 – April 23, 2023