Every three hours in the U.S., a baby that has been developing normally throughout the mother’s pregnancy is injured during the birthing process. Nearly 100 percent of these injuries are due to medical malpractice and could be prevented. The most common birth injury is hypoxia, a condition where the fetus is deprived of oxygen during labor, delivery or immediately after birth to a degree that the tissues and organs, including the brain, are adversely affected.
The consequences of hypoxia are serious. Depending on the length of time the infant was deprived of oxygen, the baby may be debilitated for life and never obtain normal physical or cognitive functioning. Approximately one-third of hypoxic newborns succumb shortly after their birth.
Causes of Hypoxia
There are several causes of hypoxia. All should be identified and diagnosed as soon as possible in order to decrease the chances of permanent damage. Some main causes include:
- Maternal infection during pregnancy that was not properly diagnosed or treated.
- Prolapse of the umbilical cord, which means it entered the birth canal at the same time as the fetus and got crushed, interrupting the blood supply to the infant.
- Placenta abruption, which is a condition where the placenta breaks away from the uterine wall and disconnects the fetus from the umbilical cord. This interferes with the flow of oxygen to the brain and other organs and tissues.
- Delay in performing a necessary Cesarean section due to prolonged labor of more than 18 hours. This puts pressure on the baby’s head which decreases the ability of oxygen to flow to the brain.
- Improper administration of medications during the labor process that decrease the fetal heart rate and flow of oxygen.
- The occurrence of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the head due to the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor which then causes the brain to swell and not take in enough oxygen.
- Failure to properly monitor the fetal heart rate during labor and delivery.
- Failure to note the infant inhaled Meconium so suctioning is not performed as it should be immediately after birth affecting the ability of the lungs to take in and transport oxygen.
Treatment of Hypoxia
The baby must be resuscitated as quickly as possible. Oxygen flow must be established and all measures taken to be sure that the baby is properly ventilated.
Therapeutic hypothermia, also known as cooling therapy, is frequently used. It reduces the core body temperature of the infant. When the body and brain are cooled, brain swelling and damage are minimized. To be effective, cooling must start within six hours of birth and continue for no longer than three days.
As the child grows, physical rehabilitation may be required to strengthen muscles when functioning has been impaired due to the hypoxia. Emotional and educational rehabilitation may also be required. Although there are no known cures, there are medications to control symptoms.
Symptoms of Brain Damage
Cognitive and physical disabilities may not become apparent until early childhood. In some cases, disabilities are not detected until children begin school. The earlier disabilities are detected and diagnosed, the sooner rehabilitation can begin. There are some signs you can watch for during infancy that will indicate your baby suffered from hypoxia. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your medical professional as soon as possible for further evaluation:
- Your baby has a high-pitched cry and resists or refuses nourishment.
- You baby seems inconsolable and cries or fusses continuously.
- Your baby is unable to focus his or her eyes on any particular object or person.
- You notice your baby is developmentally delayed. He or she does not crawl at the developmental age when babies begin crawling. Your baby is unable to sit up alone weeks or months after the age at which babies are expected to sit up alone.
Long Term Effects of Neonatal Hypoxia
There are a number of medical conditions that are caused by neonatal hypoxia. A few of them include:
- Cerebral palsy (CP). This is a devastating and life-long permanent disability for which there is no cure. There are varying degrees of CP, from mild to severe, all of which involve the working of the muscles. If affects approximately 500,000 people.
- A severe seizure disorder. Neonatal hypoxia is the most common cause of infants developing seizure disorders.
- Cognitive disabilities and development of behavior problems. The child will have trouble concentrating and may have frequent emotional outbursts. He or she will have difficulty concentrating and learning skills may be seriously impaired.
Rehabilitation may help improve physical and cognitive disabilities, but generally, any rehabilitative treatment must be continued on a long-term or even permanent basis.
Damages to Which You May Be Entitled
If your child suffers long-term, incurable medical conditions due to hypoxia caused by medical malpractice, you may be entitled to collect damages for:
- All medical expenses, including all forms of rehabilitation your child will need for the remainder of the child’s life.
- Loss of your child’s future earning capacity.
- Compensation for your own pain and suffering as the parent of a child negligently injured during the birthing process.
If your infant is showing signs of delayed physical and emotional development, has Cerebral Palsy or seizure disorders and you suspect these were caused by neonatal hypoxia, contact us at Meinhart, Smith & Manning, PLLC. We offer a free consultation and case assessment to determine if the hypoxia was due to medical malpractice and if you may be entitled to collect damages.