A family from Honolulu recently received a $9 million settlement for their little boy’s cerebral palsy, which was caused by the medical team failing to quickly deliver the little boy by an emergency C-section when he was showing clear signs of distress due to oxygen deprivation while in his mother’s womb.
Laura Whitney had a fairly uneventful pregnancy, although she was watched very closely during her prenatal period because she had risk factors for uterine (womb) rupture, including a previous C-section delivery. She also had a high risk pregnancy due to other reasons, such as the complicated birth of her first child. When Laura’s baby was at 35 weeks of gestation, Laura had severe lower abdominal pain and went to the Honolulu Military Hospital. At the hospital, Laura’s baby was monitored with a fetal heart rate monitor, but the staff failed to recognize signs of distress on the monitor. In fact, the staff did not even notify Laura’s obstetrician that she had arrived at the hospital with severe lower abdominal pain, which is one sign of a ruptured uterus. When signs of distress on the fetal monitor were finally recognized, it was too late. The little boy – later named Noah – had been deprived of oxygen for too long. He was delivered much too late by C-section, and shortly after birth, he was diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a form of brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain, and it can be caused by a lack of oxygen in the baby’s blood or a lack of blood flow in the baby’s brain.
Soon after the HIE diagnosis, Noah began to show signs of cerebral palsy and was diagnosed with severe spastic cerebral palsy. Noah will need around the clock care for the rest of his life.
A ruptured uterus is when the wall of the uterus tears open. This causes a lot of bleeding, and it can cause the baby to spill out of the protective uterus and into the mother’s abdomen. Very close monitoring of the mother and baby is required when uterine rupture is suspected, and a ruptured uterus almost always means that the baby must be delivered immediately by emergency C-section.
Some of the risk factors for a ruptured uterus are:
- Prior C-section delivery
- Scarred uterus
- The use of Pitocin or Cytotec
- Post-term labor
- Multiple fetuses (twins, etc.)
- An abnormal fetal position, such as breech or face presentation
- History of failure to tolerate labor with fetal distress
Signs of a ruptured uterus include the following:
- Sudden or worsening abdominal pain
- Fetal heart rate abnormalities
- Vaginal bleeding
- Decreasing uterine contractions
- Hemodynamic (blood volume / blood pressure) instability
FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE FETAL DISTRESS AND QUICKLY DELIVER THE BABY
When a baby is showing signs of distress on the fetal heart monitor, it is imperative that she be delivered immediately, in most cases. Research shows that oftentimes, members of the medical team monitoring the mother and baby lack skill in fetal heart tracing interpretation. In addition, when abnormal heart tracings are recognized, there often is a breakdown in communication among the members of the team. These factors cause huge delays in delivering a baby.
In baby Noah’s case, the team failed to recognize his distress, and they failed to notify Laura’s obstetrician that Laura had arrived with severe and sudden abdominal pain, a major sign of uterine rupture.
When fetal distress is present, it almost always means that the baby is being deprived of oxygen. When a baby is being oxygen deprived, she must be quickly delivered in order to prevent permanent brain damage and resultant cerebral palsy. Noah’s physicians said that he suffered catastrophic brain injury due to the uterine rupture and oxygen deprivation.
UTERINE RUPTURE, HIE AND CEREBRAL PALSY
Uterine rupture can cause oxygen deprivation and HIE because it causes the mother to lose a lot of blood, which means the baby will be receiving less oxygen-rich blood. In addition, vessels that bring blood from the mother to the placenta and umbilical cord and then to the baby are often severed. If the placenta and umbilical cord are affected by the rupture, this can cause the baby to be severely or even completely cut off from an oxygen supply.
HIE is a common cause of cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that cause a child to have problems with muscle tone, balance, coordination, posture and movement. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, affecting approximately 70 – 90% of children who have the condition. The muscles in children with spastic cerebral palsy are constantly rigid or spastic, which means the movements are stiff and jerky. These movements stem from an abnormally high muscle tone, called hypertonia, and both the legs and the arms are affected by the condition.
UTERINE RUPTURE AND MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE
Indeed, uterine rupture is very serious. Medical personnel should never be dismissive of signs of rupture, especially if the mother has risk factors for a ruptured uterus. And there is no excuse for missing abnormal heart tracings on the fetal monitor. A hospital must make sure that the nurses and physicians assigned to monitor a pregnant mother are extremely skilled in fetal heart tracing interpretation. An astute physician must pay close attention to the monitor, and quick actions must be taken when a baby shows signs of distress.
HELP FOR CHILDREN WHO HAVE CEREBRAL PALSY IN ANN ARBOR, DETROIT AND THROUGHOUT THE NATION
A city known for its research, Ann Arbor, Michigan, has one of the best cerebral palsy programs in the nation. In 2011, a $745 million dollar children’s hospital was created, called C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The new hospital is considered the largest and most sophisticated project in University of Michigan history, and it has one of the most extensive programs for cerebral palsy, called Cerebral Palsy Comprehensive Care. Parents from all over the state – and even the country – bring their children to Ann Arbor, Michigan for cerebral palsy treatment and therapy.
Programs provided by or affiliated with Cerebral Palsy Comprehensive Care in Ann Arbor include the following:
- Center for Independent Living
- Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR – surgery)
- CHAMP Program
- ACE Lab
- ULTrA Program
- Baclofen Pump Program
- Ventilator Clinic
There are many different injuries to a baby’s brain that can cause cerebral palsy. Oxygen deprivation, HIE, brain bleeds, infections in the mother that cause infection in the baby’s brain at birth (chorioamnionitis, group B strep, urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, herpes simplex virus), meningitis and kernicterus all can cause cerebral palsy. If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was due to a medical error, you should seek the assistance of an experienced birth injury attorney who focuses exclusively on birth injury cases, such as Jesse Reiter.
Cerebral palsy is a difficult area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of the disorder and the medical records that support it. The award winning attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers have decades of experience with cerebral palsy cases. To find out if you have a case, contact our nationally recognized firm to speak with an experienced cerebral palsy attorney. We handle cases in Michigan, Ohio, Washington, D.C. and throughout the nation. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. Email or call us at 888-419-2229.