Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy: Still A Common Threat To Infants

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy involves damage to the central nervous system from inadequate oxygen to the cells. Tragically, this condition remains alarmingly frequent in newborns. This is especially troubling, because the mortality rate is in the range of 25 to 50 percent in severe cases of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). For infants that survive HIE, 80 percent will develop severe complications such as cerebral palsy, developmental delays or mental retardation.

These disturbing statistics attest to the profound danger of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, defined as an abnormal neurobehavioral state that may cause a reduction in cerebral blood flow. The danger is well-known in the medical field, so why does birth asphyxia still account for 23 percent of all global neonatal deaths?

Hypoxia Risk Factors

There is no convincing answer as to why hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy impacts so many infants, especially since neonatal health care has made significant advances in recent decades. Further, physicians have a list of risk factors that should help to recognize and mitigate the effects of HIE. Some of the causes of HIE manifesting through pregnant mothers include:

  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
  • Anesthesia complications
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning (including tobacco use)
  • Diseases affecting the respiratory organs or muscles

When a doctor determines that hypoxia is a threat during delivery, he or she needs to act fast to minimize harm to the baby. A delay can prove fatal or cause irreversible brain damage.

Malpractice Resulting In Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Injuries

A trained physician should know the HIE risk factors and recognize when the condition may be an issue. Aside from pre-existing risk factors involving the mother's health, a doctor must recognize potential hypoxia issues during delivery. Common neonatal errors contributing to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy injuries or deaths include:

  • Failure to monitor the heart rate of the fetus
  • Failure to recognize signs of fetal distress
  • Failure to perform an emergency C-section
  • Failure to timely deliver the baby after signs of fetal distress

Medical malpractice cases involving hypoxia often involve contentious battles involving expert witnesses (physicians). The burden is on the plaintiff, or victim, to prove that the doctor acted negligently and that his or her negligence caused or contributed to the harm the infant suffered.

Damages For Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

In reality, there's no way to monetarily value the life or health of a baby. However, our civil court system uses money damages to compensate a victim and family for injuries or wrongful death. When medical negligence is proven, attorneys, jurors and judges must wrestle with the difficult task of determining money damages.

Determining compensation for hypoxia-related brain injuries is challenging, because it's often difficult to assess the full extent of harm and how it will affect the child throughout his or her lifetime. Damages a family may be compensated for include past and future medical expenses, the cost of assisted-living care, resulting disabilities and pain and suffering. Damage valuation of each birth injury case is unique.

When an infant dies from HIE, the family is entitled to money damages if the death resulted from physician or hospital negligence. Known as a wrongful death claim, this lawsuit permits the family to recover compensation for the profound harm they and their baby suffered.

If You Suspect Medical Negligence, Take Swift Action

If you believe that your child may have suffered hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy due to medical malpractice, you should promptly speak with an experienced New York birth injury attorney to assess your options. There are strict time limits for bringing a personal injury or wrongful death claim in New York. Further, a lawyer can begin investigating your claim and preserve valuable evidence concerning your child's injuries.

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