Birth Injury: Hypoxia
Hypoxia occurs when a baby receives inadequate oxygen to its brain before, during, or after delivery. The condition can lead to brain injury and, if improperly treated, may progress into a permanent disorder, such as cerebral palsy, cognitive deficiencies, or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). However, hypoxia doesn't necessarily lead to permanent disability. While most babies born with mild hypoxia will recover without permanent disability, moderate or severe hypoxia substantially increases the risk that your baby will have a lifelong disability.
What Causes Hypoxia?
The longer it's left untreated, the more likely it is that Hypoxia will lead to permanent, debilitating disability. Therefore, it's crucial that hypoxia be identified as soon as possible. Neonatal hypoxia may occur anytime before, during, or after labor. Potential risk factors for hypoxia include:
- Umbilical cord injuries
- Placental insufficiency - a blood flow disorder that leads to a lack of growth for the placenta
- Congenital heart disease
- Placental abruption - the lining of the placenta separates from the mother's uterus
- Cardiovascular collapse
- Umbilical cord prolapse - the umbilical cord leaves the uterus before or at the same time as the fetus
- Oxygen deprivation
- Shoulder dystocia - the baby's shoulder gets stuck behind the mother's pubic bone during labor
- Brain blood vessel abnormality
The first step in treatment is to resuscitate the infant and stabilize oxygen flow. Once this has been done, depending on the needs of the baby, treatment may include hypo-or-hyperthermia management, fluid management, and ensuring adequate ventilation. In recent years, cooling therapy has become a popular treatment. Cooling therapy involves a plastic blanket that is circulated inside with cool water. The cooling therapy is usually sustained for less than three days, and during this time, it slows down brain swelling and cell death -- which would otherwise cause permanent brain damage.
If the hypoxia has progressed into a permanent brain injury, with cognitive deficit, cerebral palsy, or other results, then treatment becomes focused on a combination of medicine and long term therapy. There is no cure for the permanent brain injury caused by extended hypoxia, so the treatment is necessarily lifelong. The costs for lifelong biological and psychological therapy (and accessory costs for supportive care) are often prohibitively high. Families may also require some form of psychological therapy to help cope with the emotional and financial burdens they face.
Medical Malpractice and Legal Remedies
In cases of hypoxia, injury is swift but preventable, meaning if the right steps are taken permanent disabilities can often be avoided. Given the advancements made in hypoxia identification and treatment in the past fifteen years, hypoxia that progresses into permanent injury can be the result of medical negligence on the part of the doctor or other health care professionals. Under medical malpractice law, medical professionals must adhere to standards that are in place to ensure that any distress is identified and promptly treated. If a doctor fails to uphold these standards, and an infant is permanently injured as a result, the doctor could be liable for medical malpractice.
Get Legal Help After Birth Injuries
After an injury to a baby, all the parents want to think about is getting help for their child. After receiving the necessary information, treatment, and support from your doctor, the next step may be getting the legal help you need. If you think your child's injury could have been caused by the negligence of a heath care provider, you should have the facts of your situation reviewed by an experienced attorney as soon as possible. This will allow you to protect your legal rights, leave open the option of receiving damages for your injury, and let you focus on your health and that of your baby.