Pennsylvania Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) Attorneys
What can I do if my baby was deprived of oxygen at birth (HIE; birth asphyxia) in Pennsylvania?
Nobody expects that the birth of their child will have complications, especially ones involving brain injury. If your child’s brain was deprived of oxygen at birth, it is likely they have a brain injury called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. This diagnosis means that, as oxygen deprivation occurred, some of the cells in the baby’s brain became damaged and died. The severity of this diagnosis varies widely. In the mildest of cases (and when a baby received brain cooling within six hours of birth), there may be little to no functional difference in the baby’s abilities compared to their peers. In very severe cases, the child may require around-the-clock care for the rest of their lives. Throughout this page, our Pennsylvania HIE attorneys, medical staff, and professionals will discuss everything you need to know about hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and birth injury cases.
An Overview of HIE: Causes, Treatment, and Finding Help for HIE in Pennsylvania
Because labor and delivery can be a very complex process, there are many factors that parents should look out for if they are worried about a medical staffer’s mistakes. If labor and delivery was exceptionally difficult, if labor stalled or went on for too long, if an emergency C-section was needed but was delayed, or if medical staff used vacuum extractors or forceps to deliver the baby, it is more likely that medical malpractice led to your child’s brain injury at birth. A medical malpractice attorney can investigate the standards of care for the circumstances surrounding your child’s birth and determine whether you can recover funds for your child’s care.
To mitigate the damage caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), it is absolutely critical that the baby receives early intervention care, which can include various therapies (occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy among them), medical care and early education programs. The earlier the diagnosis is caught, the earlier intensive care can begin. The earlier intensive care begins, the better outcomes can be. If parents suspect medical malpractice in their child’s brain injury, they also have the option of talking to a Pennsylvania birth injury attorney to help them pay for their child’s care and therapy. Often these permanent brain injuries were preventable; medical staff should be held accountable for the errors that caused your child’s injury
Whether you are in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Reading, Bensalem, Erie, Upper Darby, Scranton, Bethlehem, Lancaster, or any other Pennsylvania city, the Pennsylvania birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers can help you understand the circumstances of your child’s birth. We can investigate to determine whether there was medical malpractice in your child’s birth and help you pursue justice if you choose to file a suit.
If you are concerned about the medical care you received or the way your child is developing, please reach out to us 24 hours a day at 888-419-2229. You may also fill out an online contact form here.
What signs should I look out for when I suspect HIE and fetal oxygen deprivation?
Unlike external injuries, brain injuries are not always readily visible. Oxygen deprivation-related injuries in a baby such as HIE can sometimes look different depending on the severity and location of the brain injury, as well as whether the child received early intervention care. Sometimes injuries are caught early (even after birth during the postnatal hospital stay), while in other cases, it is only caught later on as the child develops high-level cognitive processes. Although signs and symptoms can vary, there are several common things that parents should look out for as their child develops, because these markers can be strongly associated with both HIE and medical malpractice:
- Seizures after birth are one of the most common markers of brain injury after birth. Babies who are suspected of having been injured at birth should be monitored using EEGs to see what their brain activity is like; while seizures can sometimes result in repetitive twitching or starting off into space, in other cases they are only detectable via EEG. It is critical for medical staff to identify seizures as soon as possible because untreated seizures make existing brain damage worse.
- If the baby was diagnosed with a fetal stroke, it is likely that they also have HIE, as strokes can often cause HIE and vice versa. Babies who have had one stroke are at risk for another, and there are steps that medical staff should take to prevent further strokes and brain damage.
- Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS): When a baby isn’t doing well during labor, they can sometimes have a bowel movement and breathe it in. If this happens, medical staff may need to resuscitate the baby and help it to breathe, because the meconium can block airways and cause infection.
- If the baby didn’t breathe after birth, this means that medical staff have to help the baby begin breathing. If the baby isn’t born breathing, it is possible that something went wrong during the labor and delivery process, and it is worth investigating what occurred. A prolonged NICU stay is often a risk factor for neonatal brain injury.
- If the birth was traumatic, prolonged or stalled, it is likelier that injury may have occurred. There are guidelines in place for how long a vaginal labor can continue before decisions to undergo a C-section must be made. If labor is not progressing or is going on for too long, it is likely that the baby needs to be removed from the womb to prevent hypoxic injury.
- If the baby is found to have an umbilical cord that is too short, too long, is knotted, or is wrapped around the baby’s neck, it is possible that the vessels that carry oxygen to the baby were compressed. These umbilical cord issues are generally detectable via imaging during prenatal care, so if they are only found during or after labor or delivery, the baby was exposed to unnecessary risk.
- If the mother or baby had heavy bleeding (hemorrhage) during delivery, it is likelier that the baby suffered oxygen deprivation. Because newborn babies are so small, even small amounts of blood loss can cause a serious drop in blood pressure, which means that the baby’s tissues aren’t getting the oxygen they need. Medical staff have methods of preventing and mitigating blood loss that should be taken.
- If the mother was given Pitocin or Cytotec to speed up labor, it is possible that the mother experienced uterine hyperstimulation. There are very few ways to predict how an individual mother’s body will react to a dose of these drugs, and in certain cases, these drugs can cause the uterus to clench too much, depriving the baby of oxygen.
- If the baby was born feet-first or face-first, it is much more likely that they will experience birth trauma because they are not in a correct position. Being born feet-first increases the risk that the umbilical cord will come out first before the baby, compressing and causing oxygen deprivation, while face presentation makes it more likely that the birth will cause trauma to the head and neck.
- If the baby was diagnosed with an infection after birth (such as meningitis, encephalitis, pneumonia, Group B Strep, for example), it is likely that medical staff didn’t diagnose an infection in the mother properly or in time. This leads to a preventable infection in the baby. These can be very serious, as such infections can cause serious inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain, leading to brain damage and seizures.
- If the mother has diabetes, obesity, preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, the pregnancy is considered high-risk and needs to be monitored by a maternal-fetal specialist. If the mother was never returned to a specialist, it is likely that critical opportunities for treatment and surveillance were missed.
- If the baby was too small or too big, it is likelier that they will not tolerate labor well. Babies that are too small are more fragile, and it is often safer for them to be delivered via C-section. Babies that are too big are more likely to get stuck during labor and require a C-section when labor stalls.
- If the baby has untreated jaundice that turns into seizures, the baby has a preventable form of brain damage called kernicterus. The baby should have been placed under special fiber-optic lights to help them reduce the bilirubin levels in their blood to safe levels. Failure to do so in medical malpractice.
- If the baby has a diagnosis of hydrocephalus or periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), it is likely the baby has oxygen-deprivation related brain injuries because these two diagnoses are associated with fragile brain cell membranes. These fragile membranes are more likely to bleed, and bleeding or blood pooling in the brain can often mean that other parts of the brain are not receiving proper oxygen.
- If the baby has low blood sugar after birth (neonatal hypoglycemia), it is likelier that they will have brain damage. Blood glucose is the only source the developing brain has for energy – if brain cells don’t have the energy to function, they begin to die in a permanent and irreversible process. Babies should be closely monitored after birth to ensure their blood sugar levels are adequate.
- If a child starts to miss developmental milestones, especially in conjunction with indicators that something may have gone awry at birth, it can be a warning sign that the child had a brain injury. The CDC has a checklist of important developmental milestones broken down by age that parents may find helpful.
- If the baby was born blue, pale, floppy, limp, or didn’t cry after birth, these are potential signs of fetal oxygen deprivation. An Apgar score indicates how likely it is that the baby will need extra medical intervention; low Apgar scores mean that it is likely the baby had an injury that requires extra care. If extra care isn’t provided or is provided improperly, it is medical malpractice.
Your baby was diagnosed with HIE. What medical treatment or therapy is available?
There is currently only one treatment available that is designed to heal some of the damage caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain at birth. This treatment is called hypothermia therapy (and is also known as brain cooling or cooling therapy). Unfortunately, the treatment has been found to be effective only within the first six hours of birth, so it is critical to have the child treated as soon after birth as possible, as cooling therapy is most effective the sooner it is administered. Cooling therapy is the standard of care for HIE – if a baby has HIE and they don’t receive brain cooling, the medical practitioners have committed medical malpractice by missing a crucial opportunity to help the baby’s brain heal.
Finding Treatment for HIE in Pennsylvania
Hypothermia therapy is not the only way that babies with HIE can have improved outcomes, however. Early intervention programs and physical/occupational/speech therapy can help the baby develop and minimize functional disability when initiated early. These kinds of therapies require the cooperation of multiple specialists. Parents who enroll their children in this kind of therapy will have an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) in the early stages of life, which then transitions to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as the child enters school-age. For more information on IFSPs and IEPs, please visit My Child Without Limits, IFSPWeb, and Understood.org. For information on free resources available to families that need early intervention programs, please visit the following websites:
- Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Early Intervention Resources
- Pennsylvania Department of Education Early Intervention Services
- The PA Promise for Children
- Disability Rights PA: A comprehensive Guide to Obtaining EI Services
- Pennsylvania Families, Inc.
- Juvenile Law Center: Early Head Start Programs
Securing Funds for Your Child’s Medical Care
Financial Assistance for Pennsylvania HIE Victims
Parents may sometimes not know where to start when it comes to figuring out how to finance their child’s care. While numerous government programs are available, such as Medicare or MEdicaid, that can help defray the costs of medical care, these programs may not necessarily cover the entire cost of care. Some children with disabilities may be eligible for state-sponsored benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), though this is not always the case. For information regarding external assistance programs, please visit the following pages:
- The PACER Center: Financial planning for parents of children with disabilities
- Kiplinger: Financial planning for disabilities
- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Special Needs Resource Directory
- The Center for Advancing Healthcare Policy and Practice
When it comes to birth injuries, however, parents have another option they can take when it comes to securing their child’s future. If their child’s birth injury was caused by medical malpractice, they can secure a settlement or verdict from the party that made the errors that led to their child’s disabilities. These medical malpractice lawsuits’ costs are never paid from the parent’s own pocket, making it a risk-free way to try to secure justice for their child. The settlement or verdict often goes into a special needs trust, which gains interest over time and helps pay for costs the child may incur that aren’t covered by insurance or other existing programs. If you suspect that your child’s disabilities were caused by medical malpractice, please call the offices of Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers at 888-419-2229 or contact us here 24/7.
Getting Help for Your Child with HIE in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania HIE Attorneys Serving Families in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Across Pennsylvania
If you are concerned about your child’s development and suspect that their disabilities may be due to a medical error, please reach out to the Pennsylvania birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers. Our firm focuses only on birth injury, and our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience, providing them with the knowledge needed to successfully litigate these complex cases. We also also one of the few birth injury firms to employ in-house medical staff. The firm has consistently been ranked among the Best Law Firms in America, according to U.S. News and World Report, and our attorneys have been listed in SuperLawyers Magazine and BestLawyers for numerous years. Our attorneys serve as active members and leaders in groups including the Birth Trauma Litigation Group, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, the American Association for Justice, and more.
We hope to help secure parents peace of mind knowing their children will be well-cared-for throughout their lives. Call us for a free, no-obligation consultation. We will always keep your information completely confidential.
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