Infant Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Attorneys

Encephalopathy is damage to the brain or spine due to ischemia or the death of the cells due to hypoxia, which is the lack of oxygen. All cells of the body need oxygen to live, and if they’re deprived of oxygen for too long, then they’ll die. Cellular death can cause damage to organs, such as the brain, when either the cells can’t grow back or the organ itself can’t compensate for the damage done. Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a condition that causes neurological disorders in infants and leads to conditions such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation and spastic quadriplegia because the infants’ brains are still developing when the brain cells die. Thus, infants are especially vulnerable to the lack of oxygen. Accordingly, having their oxygen cut off for any length of time can have dire, lifelong consequences for the baby.

HIE is also a common cause of infant death, implicated in about 23% of all newborn deaths worldwide.

While it’s possible that oxygen can be cut off during labor and shortly after birth, it need not cause brain damage if medical professionals caring for the mother and baby are vigilant to avoid hypoxia and to remedy it as soon as they recognize it.

Symptoms Of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

The signs of HIE are signs of hypoxia themselves, as prolonged lack of oxygen can lead to cellular death. They include:

  • Bluish skin color
  • Quiet baby
  • A baby not breathing (lungs not inflating)
  • A limp baby
  • Low Apgar score (a baby in poor physical condition)

It’s also to be noted that premature babies may not have fully developed lungs or airway systems (usually less than 37 weeks gestation) and are therefore particularly vulnerable to HIE.

All HIE causes some sort of damage, but it isn’t always permanent. Mild HIE usually resolves itself within 24 hours, with signs such as poor feeding and irritability that go away. However, moderate to severe HIE can manifest in long-lasting and permanent debilities, with signs such as seizures, poor feeding, and poor muscle tone and reflexes.

Moderate HIE may resolve itself in a week or two, while severe HIE causes more problems, such as repeated seizures, death and disability. Infants with severe HIE may also be unable to nurse, move or breathe on their own.

Causes Of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

Any instance that could lower oxygen in the baby’s body creates a risk of brain cell death. However, ischemia doesn’t happen instantly; it takes about three to five minutes of a cell receiving no oxygen for the cells to start dying. Any longer, and there’s an increased risk of infant death when there’s a complete loss of oxygen.

These signs indicate possible or probable hypoxia to some degree, which could lead to brain cell death if not remedied quickly:

  • Amniotic fluid with meconium (the sticky waste tissue that the baby inhales in utero but usually expels from their lungs before birth)
  • Low maternal heart rate
  • Premature birth
  • Umbilical cord coming out before the baby does
  • The umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck
  • Low blood pressure in the mother
  • Long labor and delivery
  • Multiple births
  • Administering Pitocin or oxytocin to the mother during delivery

In many cases, HIE happens when there’s a delay or refusal to perform a caesarean section when the infant is in distress and either the mother is unable to give birth vaginally or the infant becomes unable to leave the vaginal canal. At this point, there could be a risk of HIE if the mother is also in distress and/or if the umbilical cord is depressed or pinched.

Did Your Child Suffer HIE? How Do You Know?

If your child suffered or manifested neurological damage at birth, then he or she may have suffered HIE, especially if there were any complications or problems with your delivery. Certain neurological disorders, like mental retardation, cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, could develop as a result of HIE.

If your child suffered an injury as a result of HIE, you may be struggling to take care of them and/or pay for their care. However, you don’t have to do this alone if the HIE was the result of medical malpractice.

HEI settlements in Florida include:

  • A $5 million settlement in Duval County to the parents of an infant who suffered HIE due to failure to perform a cesarean section once it was obvious that the fetus was in distress during labor and the mother’s cervix would not dilate enough for a vaginal delivery.
  • An over $33.8 million verdict in Miami for a family whose infant suffered catastrophic HIE and requires 24-hour care. The hospital gave the mother Pitocin to help labor along but failed to stop giving it to her once it became clear that the infant suffered a serious lack of blood and oxygen. The hospital never performed or offered to perform a cesarean section, resulting in the HIE that caused severe disability.
  • A $35.2 million settlement in Broward County to a family of an 8-year-old with severe cerebral palsy due to HIE as a result of a delayed cesarean section for the mother who was at high risk for pregnancy complications. Health care professionals negligently failed to detect the fetal distress that led to HIE.

When Should You Contact An Attorney?

While some brain injuries and neurological disorders can be diagnosed at birth or shortly after, some may not manifest until the child is old enough to start sitting up and moving around by itself. Sometimes, disorders don’t manifest until much later.

Children who suffered HIE may need ongoing care. You should contact us as soon as possible to find out if you have a case and can pursue justice for your child. At Kaire & Heffernan, PLLC, we can determine whether you have a case against the health care professional(s) or the hospital that negligently allowed your child to suffer a lack of oxygen and help you get compensation for your child and your family. Contact us online or call us at 305-376-7860.