Birth hypoxia

Birth hypoxia, or perinatal hypoxia, is a condition that occurs when the tissue cannot get enough oxygen before, during or after birth.  While birth hypoxia alone, depending on the degree, may not be a drastic concern, it can lead to more serious conditions like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) if left untreated.  Depending on the severity, this can severely burden a child and their family for a lifetime.  Considering the consequences, both emotionally and financially, what are some of the medical consequences and relevant birth hypoxia laws?

Perinatal hypoxia happens in one to three times per 1000 live full-term births, or around .2% of the time.  It can be caused by a number of birth complications that cause the infant to stop breathing.  While hypoxia does not necessarily lead to permanent disability and most babies born with mild hypoxia will fully recover, moderate to severe hypoxia substantially increases the likelihood of disability.

Disabilities can vary from mild behavioral deficits to severe seizures, mental retardation or cerebral palsy.  Of those affected with HIE, around 15-20% will die in the first six weeks after birth, and another 25% will develop conditions like mental retardation, visual or motor perceptive dysfunction, increased hyperactivity, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

The longer hypoxia is left untreated, the more likely that it will lead to a permanent disability, so it is important that it be identified and treated quickly.  This treatment can include neonatal therapeutic hypothermia, or lowering the infant’s temperature, as well as concentrating on improving ventilation and perfusion, fluid management and other measures.

For those who are injured and face permanent disability due to hypoxia-related injuries, you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit.  To win a medical malpractice lawsuit, it must be shown that the doctor, nurse or other medical professional was negligent; that is, that the medical professional failed to perform up to the standard of care we hold them to.  Then, a plaintiff must prove that this negligent act that fell below the standards was the cause of the injury.

As with medical malpractice cases in general, this will often require an expert witness.  Expert witnesses are people permitted to testify at trial because of a specialized knowledge or proficiency that is relevant to the case.  In a hypoxia case, they will provide additional medical context for the injury to both establish negligence and help assess the damages that should be paid.

“Birth hypoxia, like other birth injuries, is difficult to deal with,” said Miguel Palmeiro of the Law Offices of Miguel Palmeiro.  “At the same time the parents are trying to get ready to bring a child home, they now have to deal with a host of new issues, some of which may be overwhelming.  If a child is born hypoxia that leads to encephalopathy, they may now need to prepare themselves, both emotionally and financially, for a lifetime of special needs care.”

“With the injuries that result from hypoxia, perhaps the worst of it is the lost potential for those who are injured during birth.  While nothing we can do can restore this, we can fight for the compensation to help them live comfortably with the dignity and the medical help they deserve.”

Between the complications of filing a lawsuit, statute of limitations, need for an expert witness and additional issues that can come up in the legal system, even knowing whether someone has a case can be a complicated topic. 

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