ERNST & YOUNG
Did you know that necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) affects about 10% of premature infants (weighing less than 3.3 pounds)? Although most infants experience a full recovery, it has a considerably high mortality rate of 50%. Necrotizing enterocolitis leads to a fatal and massive infection when not treated quickly.
Therefore, it can be devastating when your baby has necrotizing enterocolitis. Families experience a lot of financial strain and emotional hurt during the entire ordeal. How do you tell if a case constitutes negligence or malpractice becomes a crucial consideration? Luckily, here is everything you need to know.
What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?
Necrotizing enterocolitis is an intestinal disease in formula-fed and premature infants. Typically, it occurs during the first three weeks of life. The large intestine walls become inflamed and infected, thus leading to perforations. Stool spills into the baby’s abdomen leading to a massive bacterial or viral infection (which can be fatal when not treated early).
Because the intestine lining breaks down, NEC will affect food processing in the baby’s digestive system. However, this disease can also occur when either the large or small intestine gets inflamed or injured. In most cases, the affected intestine portion may die, and your baby will require a transplant.
What Causes NEC?
For starters, doctors don’t know the cause of necrotizing enterocolitis. What is clear is that it affects premature and formula-feeding infants. However, the following risk factors may play a role in the development of NEC:
- Low oxygen levels during delivery
- Low birth weight
- A premature (underdeveloped) intestine
- Formula feeding
- An intestinal lining injury
- Bacterial or viral infection of the intestine
Although this disease will not spread from one infant to the next, the source bacteria or virus can spread it. Therefore, necrotizing enterocolitis can occur in ‘clusters’ within a specific nursery. Luckily, NICU’S and nurseries institute strict precautions to prevent infection spread.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of NEC?
During the initial stages of NEC, food and air movement through the intestine stops or slows down. Therefore, the infant’s belly will appear distended or bloated. When you feed your baby, most of the food gets left in the stomach as gastric residuals.
After a short while, bowel loops start getting visible on the infant’s belly. It occurs because a lot of air and food is trapped inside the intestines. The baby’s belly will become discolored and painful at this point. In some cases, the infant will start having bile-tinged residuals or vomiting bile.
The baby may start getting bloated all over with blood present in the stool and reduced urine output. During this stage, most babies experience spells of bradycardia or apnea because they have a hard time regulating body temperature. In the long run, the bowel ruptures and leads to respiratory distress and a massive infection.
How Does a Doctor Arrive at an NEC Diagnosis?
A neonatologist (or any other medical professional caring for newborns and premature babies) should recognize signs and symptoms. Therefore, doctors start with examining signs and symptoms of NEC. Next, they confirm the diagnosis through abdominal X-ray examinations.
These X-rays showcase the intestine’s conditions and whether its wall has a bubbly appearance (one of the indications of damages). They also reveal air presence in the liver’s large veins or on the intestine’s surface. In some instances, the medical professional will use a needle to identify any leaks in the infant’s abdominal cavity.
Infant blood tests are also crucial in identifying white blood cells (help fight infections) and platelets (help prevent bleeding through clotting) levels. A reduced level of these two highlights that the infant is vulnerable to severe bleeding and widespread infection.
During the first stages of NEC, treatment options include administering antibiotics, stopping milk feeding, and removing air from the stomach. Doing this helps treat the infection while giving the bowels a bit of rest to recover. However, doctors will recommend frequent x-rays to monitor the progress of the treatment.
Surgery is the next treatment option when medical treatment doesn’t yield positive results. During the procedure, a surgeon removes all infected material and dead bowel sections. Depending on the severity of the infection, the bowel might divert to the abdomen or reattach. However, medical treatments will not stop until the disease is fully resolved.
What Are the Long-Term Consequences?
Necrotizing enterocolitis is a severe illness that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Infants who recover through medical treatment are exposed to a substantial risk of developing extended problems — including growth delays, gall bladder/liver trouble, and difficulty in absorbing nutrients. In some cases, NEC may lead to a substantial delay in child development.
Babies who undergo surgery for NEC treatment also experience long-term effects (in addition to medical NEC treatment effects). These include severe absorption problems, increased risk of eye/brain problems, and high chances of developing cerebral palsy.
How to Tell if a Case Constitutes Negligence or Medical Malpractice
When diagnosed swiftly, NEC can easily be treated without the need for surgery. However, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis gives the infection a chance to spread. Therefore, surgery becomes the only viable option to combating NEC at this point.
Medical professionals should recognize the signs and symptoms of NEC early enough and begin treatment. Failure to diagnose and treat the condition early enough could constitute grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Standard of care comes down to the expected kind of care from health care providers under similar circumstances. The resulting injury should be a direct result of negligence on the part of the health care provider. Successful medical malpractice lawsuits will help you recover all or some of the following damages:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment or quality of life
- Parent’s income loss
- Death benefits for the family
- Medical costs of treatment and long-term care
Let Us Help You
Does your baby have necrotizing enterocolitis? Do you suspect medical malpractice or negligence? A medical malpractice lawyer can help you determine if you have viable grounds for malpractice or negligence. At Weltchek Mallahan & Weltchek, we specialize in birth injury cases to get you the justice you deserve. Ensure you contact us today to get expert advice from an experienced birth injury or medical malpractice lawyer.
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Have you or a loved one been injured due to negligence? We want to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you believe you have a case; time is an important factor. Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us so we can better evaluate and serve your needs in getting the justice your loved one deserves. You may very well be entitled to compensation.
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