Sometimes the brain of a child does not get enough oxygenated blood during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or shortly after childbirth. This can result in hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which involves the death of brain cells. While some children who suffer from HIE do not experience severe symptoms, others may develop cerebral palsy, cognitive issues, or developmental delays. Sometimes epilepsy also may result. The severity of HIE in a specific case usually depends on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen. In some cases, a baby may have been deprived of oxygen flow to other organs as well, causing separate conditions in those organs. However, organs other than the brain usually will recover fully from oxygen deprivation, while the brain may not.
Numerous factors can cause HIE, but some common causes include:
Low blood pressure in the mother before birth or in the baby after birth
A baby who develops lung or heart disease, undergoes an extremely premature birth, or is in a breech position may be at higher risk of HIE. Significant breathing problems or a low heart rate during or after childbirth should cause a doctor to consider this issue.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
The symptoms of HIE vary according to the location of the brain injury and the scope of the damage. Among other things, a child may suffer from seizures, exhibit other abnormal movements, or struggle to feed. They may have a weak cry and floppy muscles. Extreme sensitivity or insensitivity to environmental stimulation can cause a doctor to suspect HIE. If a doctor notices that other organs in a child are not performing properly, this may indicate overall oxygen deprivation that may have affected their brain as well.
Testing a child for suspected HIE may involve MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and other neuroimaging tests. A doctor also may use an electroencephalogram to analyze the brain activity of a child.
Brain Cooling and Other Treatments for Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
If a baby receives a prompt HIE diagnosis, a doctor may order a distinctive form of treatment known as brain cooling. This involves cooling the brain below normal body temperature for three days by placing the baby on a cooling blanket, while providing them with medications to prevent discomfort. Doctors will monitor brain activity during this process, as well as heart rate, temperature, and breathing. (Heart rate and breathing are expected to slow when the brain cools.) The child will be restored gradually to normal temperature after the three-day period.
Treatment for Related Conditions
If a child has suffered harm to other organs from oxygen deprivation, a health care provider may need to complement brain cooling with other treatments. For example, a child with breathing problems may need a breathing tube, or a child with kidney problems may need treatment to help their kidneys function properly.
Long-term treatments for symptoms arising from HIE may involve physical and occupational therapies. These can help a child live a fulfilling, relatively independent life. A doctor also may prescribe ongoing use of medications that target certain symptoms. The recommended course of treatment will depend on the specific symptoms caused by HIE in each case and any other conditions that arose from oxygen deprivation.
Legal Claims Arising From Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
Families of children who are suffering from HIE often incur substantial costs. They may be able to get compensation for medication, therapies, and other expenses, as well as the pain and suffering of their child, if HIE resulted from medical malpractice. While this condition is not always avoidable, many cases could have been prevented, mitigated, or more effectively treated if a health care provider had met the professional standard of care. For example, a failure to carefully monitor a fetus, manage a high-risk pregnancy, respond to fetal distress, or provide brain cooling treatment may lead to liability for medical malpractice.
A parent of a child who developed HIE should consult a birth injury lawyer to find out whether they may have a claim. These attorneys usually offer free consultations and handle cases on a contingency fee basis. In other words, they do not get paid for their services unless they get a settlement or verdict for a client.
Assert Your Rights Promptly!
A parent should not wait for a long time to explore their legal options. Delays can cause problems involving the statute of limitations and other time limits. These state laws restrict the time in which a person can bring a medical malpractice claim. A court generally will dismiss even a claim that would prevail on its merits if a parent does not bring it within the statute of limitations.