Failed Vacuum Extraction And Excessive Force During Delivery Cause Erb’s Palsy In Baby

It has been a difficult year for a new mother whose daughter was born with paralysis of her arm, a condition known as Erb’s palsy. When Amber Lucas was in labor with her little girl, Olivia, Olivia’s shoulder became wedged beneath Amber’s pelvic bone, which is called shoulder dystocia. In addition to the shoulder being stuck, Olivia’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her arm and head (cord compression and nuchal cord), which can cause severe oxygen deprivation and fetal distress. Olivia was in a compound presentation, which means one of her extremeties was presenting alongside the presenting part. In her case, her arm and head were presenting at the same time. After attempting to facilitate delivery by using many different methods, including vacuum extraction (which failed), the physician pulled on Olivia’s arm in order to deliver her. As a result of the force applied to her arm and being exerted on her head and neck, the nerves that control Olivia’s left hand, arm and shoulder were torn, causing her arm to be almost completely paralyzed. At birth, Olivia was blue and not breathing. For 5 minutes, the medical team had to breathe for her with a mask and inflatable bag, which is a resuscitation maneuver.

At 6 weeks old, physicians confirmed the diagnosis of Erb’s palsy and Olivia began physical therapy sessions.

When Olivia was eight months old, she traveled to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for a three-hour nerve graft surgery. Nerve graft surgery, or nerve transplantation/transfers, is the most effective way to treat severe Erb’s palsy, and it is the only option when the spine nerve roots have been torn from the spinal cord. During nerve graft surgery, a nerve grafts are used to reconnect the ends of the nerves. Surgeons removed Olivia’s scar tissue and used allograft, which is processed cadaver nerves, for the grafts. Nerve graft surgery must be performed by approximately nine months old; otherwise, the surgery could do more harm than good.

Now, at 14 months, there are still many things that Olivia can’t do, such as reach in her back pocket or turn her palm toward the sky. Olivia can pull things down, and she can try to climb, but she can’t lift heavy items.

Two weeks ago, Olivia had a physical and came home wearing a new brace to help straighten her arm. She will continue the weekly therapy sessions. Physicians say that Olivia may have to endure more surgeries, but for now, they are pleased with how well she is recovering from her nerve graft surgery.

Difficult Deliveries And Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy is a weakening or paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the arm’s upper group of main nerves that form part of the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves near the neck that influences all of the nerves of the arm, providing movement and feeling to the arm, hand, and fingers.

Shoulder dystocia is the most common cause of Erb’s palsy. When this occurs, the physician will try to maneuver the shoulders. Shoulder dystocia is considered an obstetrical emergency due to the potential for the umbilical cord to become compressed within the birth canal, depriving the baby of oxygen and potentially causing hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) or birth asphyxia.

Erb’s palsy is often caused by a physician’s mistake, such as improperly using forceps or a vacuum extractor, applying  too much traction or pressure to the baby’s head and neck during delivery, or simply failing to identify and treat risk factors for shoulder dystocia that are present in the mother. Due to the potential for severe injury when shoulder dystocia is present–including severe oxygen deprivation–a prompt C-section may be the safest method of delivery. The mother must be given informed consent regarding risks and alternatives of all delivery method options, including those pertaining to vacuum extractor and C-section deliveries.

Sometimes Erb’s palsy can heal on its own, without any type of treatment. Oftentimes, however, even partial recovery from the condition requires multiple surgeries and a lot of intense physical therapy. Indeed, Erb’s palsy is a devastating condition that can require costly treatment and therapy.

Help For Families And Children With Erb’s Palsy

If your child has been diagnosed with Erb’s palsy, a review of medical records can determine whether negligence played a role in causing the injury. The nationally recognized birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers have experience in handling Erb’s palsy cases throughout the nation. We understand the complex issues involved with the condition and will help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers for a free review of your case at  888-419-2229.

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