A diagnosis of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) can be stressful for new parents. Understanding more about your child’s diagnosis is the first step towards providing them the care that they need.
What is HIE?
Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is an injury that occurs when a lack of oxygen and blood flow to a baby’s brain at or near the time of birth results in brain injury.
Cells throughout the body require oxygen to survive, especially brain cells. Without proper oxygenation, cells will die. Lack of oxygen and subsequent cell death can result in mental and/or physical disabilities such as intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), learning disabilities, seizures, HIE and cerebral palsy. The extent and seriousness of the damage depends on the length of time that the baby was without oxygen. Usually, the longer a baby goes without oxygen, the more severe the damage. Significant brain damage can occur in as little as 5 minutes. Roughly 25% of babies born with HIE have significant long-term neurodevelopmental impairments.
HIE and Medical Malpractice
HIE can be caused by numerous factors, but it can be prevented. Unfortunately, an HIE diagnosis is commonly associated with medical malpractice. Doctors and other medical staff may not correctly follow standards of care and consequently make an error during pregnancy, birth, and/or delivery.
Getting Legal Help in Washington, D.C.
A birth injury can be emotionally difficult for a parent, and the added financial costs for their child’s care can be overwhelming. A birth injury lawsuit can obtain justice on behalf of your child. A lawsuit gives the chance to secure financial compensation and ensure they’re taken care of for the rest of their life. However, there is a time limit to file a lawsuit, known as a statute of limitations.
As soon as malpractice is suspected, it’s important to speak with a birth injury attorney and understand your options. The statute of limitations differs by state. Some states leave as little as two years from the date of the child’s injury to file a suit for them as a minor, and may provide a different timeline for parents to file their own claim. The statute can also change depending on what kind of facility the malpractice or negligence occurred in. In Washington, D.C., you have 3 years from the date of the injury to file a parental claim regarding a birth injury case. Claims filed on behalf of the injured child must be made by their 21st birthday.
Birth injury lawsuits can take several years. It’s crucial to find an attorney that only handles birth injury. The complexity of the medical records and the law requires experience and the right network of experts.
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Causes of HIE
There are many situations during labor and delivery that – if not promptly treated – can cause HIE. These include:
- Umbilical cord problems such as:
- Problems with the placenta or uterus such as placenta previa, placental abruption, and placental insufficiency
- Tachysystole (excessively frequent uterine contractions)
- Premature birth
- Medication errors during induction with pitocin or cytotec
- Complications related to the baby’s size or position such as breech or cephalopelvic disproportion (baby’s head is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis)
- Elevated fetal heart resting tone in between contractions
- Fetal monitoring errors
- Infant intercranial hemorrhages (brain bleeds)
- Delayed delivery of the baby, delayed emergency C-section
- Untreated medical conditions or infections in the mother, such as high blood pressure (preeclampsia)
Signs and Symptoms of HIE
It can be difficult for parents to recognize if their child’s HIE was due to malpractice. It can look different based on each individual case. Newborns suspected of HIE will most likely need critical care in a neonatal intensive unit (NICU), specific treatment like head cooling (hypothermia therapy), and will usually have head imaging done. Additional signs and symptoms of HIE at birth may include the following:
- The newborn needed resuscitation
- Low APGAR scores for longer than 5 minutes
- Seizures within the first two days of birth
- Difficulty with feeding; not being able to latch, suck or swallow
- The baby’s blood is acidic/has a low pH (abnormal umbilical cord blood gases)
- Multiple organ problems (e.g. the lungs, liver, heart, intestines)
- No brain stem reflexes (e.g. breathing problems and an abnormal response to light)
- Signs of fetal distress
HIE is confirmed through various kinds of tests and brain imaging studies such as MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, ultrasounds, blood glucose tests, arterial blood gas tests, and EEGs. In order to perform these tests, doctors must first suspect HIE. If birth was traumatic or the newborn is exhibiting any of the signs and symptoms above, testing will likely be performed.
About ABC Law Centers
Attorneys at ABC Law Centers solely handle birth injury cases. We have first-hand experience working in Washington, D.C. on birth injury cases involving cerebral palsy. Our unique focus means that we have a thorough knowledge of the complex medical aspects of birth trauma cases. Our firm has a network of renowned medical, economic and forensics experts at our side, and our attorneys have been consistently recognized for their work in birth injury. We do not charge any fees for the entire legal process unless we win.