Most expectant parents eagerly await the birth of their baby. Although most babies are born healthy, a small percentage suffer permanent damage, such as cerebral palsy, due to complications from an injury at birth.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition, which may be caused by brain damage during pregnancy, delivery or shortly after a baby is born. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8000 children in the United States are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year. Although it can vary, diagnosis is often not made until a child is two or three years old.
Diagnosis is often made based on a review of symptoms and possibly a significant delay in hitting developmental milestones. In some instances, an MRI of the brain may be recommended to determine if damage to the motor cortex is present.
The level of impairment due to cerebral palsy varies widely. Some children only have mild impairment. Others may have significant problems that interfere with daily functioning. Symptoms of cerebral may include:
- Difficulty with fine motor skills
- Speech problems
- Muscle rigidity
- Stiff joints
- Cognitive impairment
- One sided spasticity
How Hypoxic Birth Injuries Cause Cerebral Palsy
Although the reason a child has cerebral palsy is not always known, birth injuries are the cause in some instances. The most common injury leading to cerebral palsy is hypoxia-ischemic encephalopathy, which is a lack of blood and oxygen to the brain.
What happens is, if the oxygen supply is reduced or cut off to the baby either while still in utero or at birth, it can lead to damage to the brain tissue. The extent of the damage depends on how long the oxygen deprivation lasted and what part of the brain was damaged. Sometimes the damage results in cerebral palsy. Babies who develop cerebral palsy due to a hypoxic brain injury, often sustain damage to the motor cortex.
Medical Mismanagement and Hypoxic Birth Injuries
In some instances, birth injuries occur due to medical mismanagement. Hypoxic brain injuries can occur at birth for a variety of reasons including:
Delay in performing a C-section: During labor, the baby and mother should be monitored closely to spot signs of distress early. A sign of fetal distress includes a decrease in heart rate. Depending on the extent of distress noted, a C-section may be needed. Failure to recognize the need for a C-section or delaying the procedure can lead to complications.
Failure to recognize umbilical cord problems: During pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline. But problems can also develop including a prolapsed cord. A prolapsed cord involves the cord presenting at the birth canal before the baby. The baby can also become tangled in the umbilical cord before delivery, or the cord can become compressed during labor. Both problems can decrease the oxygen supply to the baby’s brain and lead to complications including cerebral palsy. Cord problems can often be recognized through proper fetal monitoring.
Improper use of vacuum extractors or forceps during delivery: In some cases, delivery assisted devices can be useful to allow a woman to give birth vaginally. But forceps and vacuum extractors carry risks, such as nerve damage, skull fracture, and even death. If the devices are placed improperly or the pressure applied is wrong, it can also head to hypoxia and cerebral palsy.
Negligence during resuscitation: According to the CDC, about ten percent of babies require some degree of resuscitation at birth. Resuscitation may range from blow-by oxygen and suctioning to CPR. Medical mismanagement during resuscitation can lead to decreased oxygen to the baby’s brain.
Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
Once a diagnosis of cerebral palsy is made, treatment may vary based on the symptoms. Treatment may include speech, occupational and physical therapy. Special education classes may also be helpful if a child has cognitive delays. Adaptive devices are also sometimes recommended to improve a child’s independence and level of functioning.
Treatment for a child with cerebral palsy often requires a team of medical professionals, such as pediatric neurologists, therapists, and social workers. Advances in treatment for cerebral palsy continue to evolve. A child’s ability to reach their full potential, as well as their quality of life can be improved with early treatment. But treatment can be costly.
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you think it was due to medical negligence, you may have a viable civil action to help pay for the enormous medical costs that lie ahead. We may be able to help. To schedule a free consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys, please call our office at 312-527-4500 for a Free Consultation.