This paper examines the concept of vulnerability in the context of maternal morbidity and mortality in Burkina Faso, an impoverished country in West Africa. Drawing on a longitudinal cohort study into the consequences of life-threatening or 'near miss' obstetric complications, we provide an in-depth case study of one woman's experience of such morbidity and its aftermath. We follow Kalizeta's trajectory from her near miss and the stillbirth of her child to her death from pregnancy-related hypertension after a subsequent delivery less than two years later, in order to examine the impact of severe and persistent illness and catastrophic health expenditure on her health and on her family's everyday life. Kalizeta's case illustrates how vulnerability in health emerges and is maintained or exacerbated over time. Even where social arrangements are supportive, structural impediments, including unaffordable and inadequate healthcare, can severely limit individual resilience to mitigate the negative social and economic consequences of ill health.