ERNST & YOUNG
Babies that don’t receive enough oxygen during the birthing process can remain with severe physical or development difficulties. This impacts the quality of the child’s life as well as the lives of his/her family. Newborns are especially prone to fetal cerebral hypoxia in the perinatal phase – during labor and delivery.
Brain injuries as a result of lack of oxygen to the brain (cerebral hypoxia) can be compensable if they happened as a result of medical negligence. If you believe your loved one or child sustained brain damage after cerebral hypoxia, you should seek legal guidance.
Medical malpractice is a complex area of law, and you need expert guidance to establish the viability of your claim and seek legal redress. Consult a medical malpractice lawyer who is reputable and experienced in litigating brain damage-related cases.
This article highlights everything you need to know about cerebral hypoxia, how it happens, medical negligence and what to do about it.
Understanding Medical Negligence
Medical negligence is often confused with medical malpractice, but the latter is a broader term that includes the former. Medical negligence refers to an act or failure to act by a medical professional which deviates from the medically accepted standard of care.
Most medical malpractice cases are hinged on medical negligence. However, it isn’t on its own enough to validate a claim, unless the negligence caused a patient harm.
Doctors and other medical professionals owe their patients a “duty of care” that requires them to give treatment according to the “medical standard of care”. This is defined as:
The level and type of care a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice.
Therefore, when the medical professional provides treatment that is sub-standard to accepted medical norms, he/she failed in their legal duty of care, and they can be accused of negligence. If this results in a patient’s injury, negligence becomes medical malpractice. Injury can include worsening condition, unexpected/unreasonable complications requiring additional treatment, or disability among others.
A medical malpractice claim should show legal causation and damages for it to be considered viable. If the negligence didn’t lead to the patient’s injury or did not hurt the patient’s condition, it falls short of legal requirements.
What is Cerebral Hypoxia?
Cerebral hypoxia is a medical term that means there is insufficient oxygen supply to the brain. It is different from “cerebral anoxia”, which means there is no oxygen supply to the brain.
Both conditions are serious and require immediate intervention to prevent severe injuries or complications. Brain cells rely so heavily on oxygen that they can start dying after just five minutes of disrupted oxygen supply.
Causes of Hypoxia and Examples of Medical Negligence
How Brain Damage at Childbirth Becomes a Lawsuit
What to Do as a Parent
Working with Malpractice Lawyers
Perinatal hypoxia happens when the baby’s oxygen supply is disrupted in the period during and immediately after birth. This causes an oxygen-related injury which kills some brain cells. The longer hypoxia goes untreated, the higher the risk that the baby will develop lifelong complications or disabilities.
What is Perinatal Hypoxia?
Cerebral hypoxia in a newborn can lead to serious medical conditions such as brain damage, Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and paralysis. Other possible outcomes include cerebral palsy, severe seizures, cognitive disabilities and behavioral disorders, among others.
However, prompt interventions (before 48 hours) can prevent risks of developing the more serious outcomes above.
When a newborn suffers brain damage as a result of cerebral hypoxia, the entire family fears for the baby’s life and future health. Brain damage can be the result of perinatal asphyxia, HIE or traumatic brain injury. TBI can happen as a result of ruptured blood vessels in the skull after a rough labor or delivery.
Parents or family members should ask for the baby’s medical records to determine the cause of brain injury. You can verify whether or not this was because of negligence of the medical staff attending the birth. If medical negligence can be shown, the parents or loved ones can bring a medical malpractice lawsuit on the baby’s behalf.
There are many ways in which a baby’s oxygen supply can be disrupted during labor and delivery. The following are some common labor room scenarios that can cause hypoxia and related birth injuries:
- Physical trauma during labor and delivery, e.g. forceful extraction with vacuum extractor or forceps
- Baby getting stuck in the birth canal
- Excessive/aggressive extraction
- Severe drop in glucose levels
- Untreated jaundice
- Failure to diagnose and correct hypotension
- General or local anesthesia complications
- Surgical or medication errors
Many of the above situations are preventable if the birth attendants monitor the baby closely and intervene promptly.
Neonatal hypoxia can happen at any point during the perinatal phase, but there are risk factors which raise the chances of happening. These include:
- Umbilical cord injuries e.g., umbilical prolapse, placenta abruption, etc.
- Maternal smoking and maternal anemia
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Birth asphyxia
- Placental insufficiency – blood flow disorder causing stunted placental growth
- Congenital heart disease
- Shoulder dystocia – baby’s shoulders get stuck in mother’s pubic bone
- Brain blood vessel abnormalities
Inadequate oxygen supply to a newborn can lower the baby’s heart rate, blood pressure and arterial blood flow. This limits blood flow to vital organs and tissues, and it can result in irreversible cellular and neurological damage. Many children with cerebral palsy today suffered asphyxia or hypoxia as a result of medical negligence or malpractice.
Bringing a medical malpractice suit may be the only way for parents of a newborn with brain injury to afford the child’s medical expenses. Perinatal brain injury or hypoxic brain injury can cause irreparable damage, and lifelong care and physical therapy needed for the child is very costly.
Many mothers whose newborns had undiagnosed fetal distress and brain stem injuries or brain injuries struggle to understand why it happened. Even when there’s clear fault with the medical attendants or hospital, patients do not get any explanations or apologies. Just a stack of bills with threats of debt collection agencies if parents don’t settle the bills.
Worse still, the parents are left to care for a child with special needs, which is no mean feat. Some families are struggling already and the care of a special needs’ child can drive them to the brink of bankruptcy and insanity.
For these people, bringing a malpractice lawsuit is anything but frivolous. A successful claim provides a lifeline to enable families cater for future treatment for the baby. It helps families to get some closure by holding those who erred accountable for their actions. Hopefully, their actions can protect other families from similar outcomes.
Proving medical negligence isn’t as simple as showing that a doctor or medical professional made a mistake or failed to act in negligence. For your case, it isn’t enough to show that something went wrong in the labor and delivery process leading to your child’s injury. You must show:
- What the appropriate standard of care was in those circumstances
- How the medical professional’s actions or inactions deviated from that standard
- That their deviations caused some amount of harm to the newborn baby as a result
Almost all medical malpractice lawsuits require the testimony of an expert witness, a person with similar experience in the medical field. This is especially important if the case goes before a jury in a court of law. In fact, many states need a certificate of merit – a sworn statement by an expert verifying the validity of the claim.
Only an attorney can help you do everything required to gather evidence, present your complaints, notify the defendants and their insurers and argue for you in court. If it comes to an out-of-court settlement, an attorney can advise whether or not your case has enough merit to give you a stronger negotiating position
If their offers don’t make sense given the evidence of the case, the attorney will help you turn it away.
Medical malpractice is one of the more complex fields to pursue in law, because it also requires lawyers who have deep understanding of medical matters. Be sure to engage a lawyer that has proven expertise in this area.
Why Is Perinatal Hypoxia Dangerous?
If you child or loved one has suffered debilitating brain injury and you think the medical professional or hospital did not act in your best interests, call a medical malpractice attorney immediately. You need an aggressive and experienced firm, especially one with experience in brain damage lawsuits.
Sometimes, hospitals or insurance companies can take advantage of families by offering a small settlement and getting them to waive their legal rights to sue. Let a qualified attorney guide you through the entire process of getting justice for your injured child.
Brain injuries can have lifelong consequences for a baby, and watching a child suffer these consequences as a result of someone’s negligence is heartbreaking. Find the help you need to provide for your child and hold the errant parties accountable for their actions.