Chicago Infant Brain Damage Attorneys
A constant concern for expectant mothers and fathers is fear that their newborn will suffer from a birth defect. Although a myriad of prenatal diagnostic tests exist today - including amniocentesis, embryoscopy, fetoscopy and maternal serum screening - no combination of medical diagnostic tests exists that can rule out every possible injury, disease, or condition. But there have been definite circumstances when certain tests should have been performed by an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) and were not. Other times, a baby's doctor may have misread or failed to properly diagnose a prenatal condition which could have been treated, but was not.
In the case of infant brain damage, another frightening possibility is that the injury was not even present during pregnancy to detect: In other words, there are occasions when the birth injury is a result of the delivery itself. The medical care provided by the doctor, nurse, or hospital may have been below the appropriate standard of care. The negligent uses of forceps, or a failure to perform a timely C-section, are just a few such examples. In these circumstances, medical malpractice may have occurred as well. If your child sustained a brain injury, the Chicago infant brain damage lawyers of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can help. Contact us at (312) 644-0444 for a free consultation.
Hypoxic and Anoxic Infant Brain Injury Lawsuits
Medical malpractice can occur when, due to the doctor’s actions (or inaction), oxygen supply to the baby stops, even for a short time. In order to function and survive, the brain requires a constant supply of oxygen. When this supply of oxygen is interrupted, irreversible damage will quickly follow, especially in infants. When there is a complete interruption of oxygen being supplied to the brain, this is called cerebral anoxia. If the supply is not completely cut off, but is insufficient to maintain brain functions at a normal level, this is called cerebral hypoxia. Symptoms of hypoxia and anoxia include:
- Short-term loss of memory
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty processing information
- Weakness in all limbs
Immediate Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage
After delivery, the OB/GYN or midwife will perform a series of tests and examine the baby to determine if any birth injuries are present. An Apgar score will be determined, and the doctor or midwife will examine the infant for color, activity, behavior and posture. In addition, measurements will be taken of the baby, including the circumference of the head.
At this point, the medical staff may have an indication that brain damage is present. But sometimes, symptoms of brain injury may not arise until days, months, or even years after delivery. Some immediate symptoms that may indicate the existence of infant brain injury include:
- Unusually large forehead
- Abnormally small forehead
- Excessive crying
- Stiffness of neck
- Extreme fussiness without apparent cause
- Difficulties when feeding
- Abnormally shaped spine
- Difficulties when sleeping
- Difficulties focusing eyes
- Distorted facial features
If a baby exhibits some of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that infant brain damage is present. These warning signs should be interpreted by a medical specialist to make a clear determination.
Developmental Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage
The symptoms indicated above are often apparent right after birth and the physician may make a preliminary diagnosis based upon his or her findings. In other cases, the baby's failure to meet certain developmental milestones may lead to a diagnosis that infant brain damage may have occurred. Some of these milestones include:
- First words
- Remembering names of objects
- Forming sentences
- Remembering places and names
- Getting dressed
- Tying shoelaces
- Feeding himself/herself
- Firmly grasping objects
- Pulling himself/herself up
- Drinking from a cup
Of course, history is full of children who were late to develop and grew up to be brilliant and talented adults. So again, these warnings signs are only a guide, as a medical specialist should be consulted to make any diagnosis regarding infant brain damage.
Causes of Infant Brain Damage
Neonatal brain damage may arise from any number of causes, although most commonly, it is the result of a blunt physical trauma to the skull during delivery or labor, jaundice, infections of the mother, or a deprivation of oxygen. Some of the most common causes include:
Also known as Birth Asphyxia or Intrapartum Asphyxia, premature babies are at higher risk for this deprivation of oxygen. Although babies are able to compensate for very short periods of time without oxygen, only a tiny window exists after birth before injury, destruction of brain tissue and brain damage will begin to occur. Brain cell damage occurs usually in the first few minutes followed by reperfusion injuries which occur after the flow oxygen and blood resumes.
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
A particularly dangerous form of infant brain injury that occurs either due to restricted blood flow to the infant's brain (ischemia) or a deprivation of oxygen (hypoxia / hypoxemia) in the infant's blood. Complications during birth that can cause Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy include:
- Umbilical cord complications
- Anemia at birth
- Acute maternal hypotension
- Placenta separating too early (placental abruption)
- Delivery problems / baby stuck in birth canal
- Prolapsed cord
- Uterine rupture
- Stress of delivery or labor
- Ruptured vasa previa
- Intrapartum hemorrhage
- Cephalopelvic disproportion injury
- Cardiac complications
A fetal stroke may be the result of maternal infection, low or high blood pressure of mother, blocked blood flow within the placenta or blood-clotting abnormalities. The use of a vacuum extractor or forceps may also lead to a fetal stroke due to oxygen deprivation. Often times, Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy will occur at the same time.
A common condition in babies, especially in premature babies, it presents as a yellowish color to the eyes and skin as a result of excessive bilirubin, which is found in red blood cells. Although jaundice is usually easily treatable, if left untreated, the levels of bilirubin may increase and create a dangerous condition called kernicterus or acute bilirubin encephalopathy both of which may lead to infant brain damage. Symptoms may include:
- Arching of back
- High-pitched crying
- Inability to feed
It is vital for the oby/gyn or other attending doctor to closely monitor the health of the mother to rule out infection during pregnancy. According to one study, babies of mothers with certain infections may be at higher risk for cognitive issues, schizophrenia and childhood epilepsy. Other complications may include increased risk for cerebral palsy, physical disabilities or brain damage. Some of these maternal infections which may give rise to such injuries include:
- Staphylococcus (staph) infections
- E coli
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Venereal warts
Trauma or force of any type applied to a newborn's head during delivery may cause infant brain damage for obvious reasons. During delivery, such trauma may occur as a result of the improper use of birth-assisting devices such as vacuums or forceps, or may occur by pulling on the baby or applying too much force during delivery through the birth canal.
One of the medical tools that the physician can use to assist in delivery is a vacuum extractor. Although its purpose is to help guide the baby out of the birth canal, if too much suction or pressure is applied, it may create a cranial bleed which is known as a subgaleal hemorrhage. When this happens, a vein ruptures and blood flows into the space between the skull and the scalp. Severe oxygen deprivation and brain damage may then result. Use of this device may also cause strokes, blood clots, intracranial hemorrhages and trauma to the spinal cord if used incorrectly.
If the uterus tears or ruptures, serious hemorrhaging of the mother's blood will likely occur. The extreme blood loss may decrease the blood flow to the baby or the tear may decrease the flow of blood between placenta and the uterus. In some circumstances, the baby may even fall out of the uterus is the ruptures is large enough. In any event, a rupture that leads to significant blood loss can result in infant brain damage if not managed promptly and correctly by the medical staff.
Eclampsia and Preeclampsia
When a mother is diagnosed during pregnancy as having high blood pressure and protein in her urine, this is generally called preeclampsia. This condition may decrease the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the baby due to damage to the placenta or constriction of the blood vessels. Preeclampsia, or its associated more serious condition of eclampsia (which may lead to seizures or coma in the mother) also increase the risk of placental abruption. Any of these conditions may lead to infant brain damage under certain circumstances.
If the anesthesiologist incorrectly manages the administration of drugs to the mother at any time during delivery, it may result in a loss of blood pressure and a hypotensive crisis. This loss of blood pressure may then result in decreased blood flow and oxygen to the baby, in turn leading to newborn brain damage.
When babies of normal size are delivered head first through the birth canal, chances of complications are at a minimum. But when the baby presents abnormally, the chances for complications and injury dramatically increase. Umbilical cord problems, brain bleeds or head trauma may occur if the delivery is not managed properly by the doctor or medical staff. If the baby presents abnormally as in any of the following examples, sometimes a doctor should elect to perform a C-Section to reduce the likelihood of complications, rather than proceed vaginally:
- Breech birth (buttocks or feet first)
- Occiput posterior presentation ("sunny-side up")
- Face presentation (face first)
- Brow presentation (neck arched so brow first)
- Transverse lie
The normal pathway for oxygen-rich blood to travel from the mother to the baby is a movement from the blood vessels in the uterus and placenta, then to the umbilical cord where the blood is distributed throughout the baby's circulatory system. But in a placental abruption, the placenta actually pulls and tears away from the womb (uterus). Is this circumstance, the blood flow is significantly interrupted which may result in infant brain damage if not properly and quickly handled by the doctor.
When the placenta grows too close to the uterus opening, it may completely or partially block the cervix/birth canal. In such a situation, a C-Section may be advised as a vaginal delivery may cause excessive bleeding, which could lead to oxygen deprivation and infant brain damage.
Although not used much anymore, forceps are tongs that are placed on the baby's skull to help guide him or her out of the birth canal. As use of this device is not as common as it once was, doctors are often not skilled in their use. Yet, a failure to use forceps properly can easily lead to trauma to the baby's spinal cord or skull, and may cause a hemorrhage, blood clot or brain bleed leading to brain damage.
Prolonged or Arrested Labor
Oxygen deprivation may occur when labor goes on too long or stops and starts. The contractions that occur during labor are very traumatic to the baby, so the longer or the more abnormal the labor, the greater the likelihood that oxygen deprivation may occur, ultimately leading a brain injury.
This is a complication that is characterized by lower than normal levels of amniotic fluid. Such a condition may lead to a compressed or prolapsed umbilical cord or to meconium aspiration. Meconium aspiration happens when the baby ingests a mixture of stool and amniotic fluid in the lungs. Resulting respiratory issues may cause distress and lower oxygen levels leading to brain damage if the doctor does not act quickly and effectively.
Premature Rupture of the Membranes (PROM)
If the mother's water breaks before going into labor, umbilical cord compression and premature birth with lungs not fully developed may occur. Infection risks such as meningitis and sepsis are increased as well. Each of these potential problems increases the risk of neonatal brain damage if the ob/gyn does not act promptly and properly.
Discuss a Possible Claim with a Chicago Birth Injury Attorney
If your child has developmental delays, mental retardation, or birth injuries including cerebral palsy, and you would like to learn if your doctor or hospital caused or contributed to this condition, contact us today. Our medical malpractice attorneys can examine your medical records free of charge to determine if medical malpractice might have occurred. Millions have been collected for our clients and their families to help ease their financial burden. You can call Chicago birth injury lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (800) 996-4824 any. Call now.