Understanding Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
What Is HIE?
Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), or neonatal encephalopathy, is a birth injury that affects 20% of all babies born in the United States each year. This medical condition occurs when a congenital disability or an act of medical negligence prevents oxygen from reaching an infant’s brain cells. This type of birth injury can result in temporary or permanent brain damage, organ failure, and devastating cognitive disorders. Of course, the severity of a child’s condition depends entirely upon how long they were deprived of oxygen during the birthing process.
Immediate symptoms of HIE include:
- Skin discoloration (white or blue)
- Low or absent heart rate
- Irregular breathing
- Depressed reflexes
Because this condition has a 25-50% mortality rate, HIE is the fifth leading cause of death for children under the age of five. Infants that survive the first few days often develop severe physical, intellectual, and cognitive disabilities, including: orthopedic conditions, developmental disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, vision problems, hearing issues, and various cognitive impairments.
There is no cure for HIE, but the following treatments and therapies can improve a child’s quality of life:
- Hypothermia therapy
- Surgical procedures
- Physical therapy
- Behavioral and emotional therapy
- Speech/language pathology
- Massage therapy
- Stem cell therapy
- Recreational therapy
- Sensory integration therapy
Many children with HIE require ongoing medical treatments, therapy sessions, and professional care services. It can be difficult for parents to afford the costs associated with an HIE diagnosis, especially if their child will never be able to hold gainful employment. Most parents need to seek financial assistance through Medicare, Medicaid, or SSI, but these programs can’t fully support a child’s medical care needs, let alone provide them with a comfortable lifestyle.
However, by filing a medical malpractice claim, a family may be able to secure a monetary recovery that provides for their child’s lifelong medical expenses and personal care needs.
HIE & Medical Malpractice
Sadly, Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy is often a consequence of medical malpractice. It’s important to note that HIE isn’t just a concern during the birthing process; a baby can also suffer a dangerous lack of oxygen during the mother’s pregnancy and the neonatal period. The mother’s obstetrician needs to diligently monitor the baby condition throughout these stages and prescribe treatments to prevent any deadly health complications.
The following acts of medical negligence can result in an HIE diagnosis:
- Failure to quickly and appropriately respond to fetal distress.
- Failure to take precautions during a high-risk pregnancy.
- Failure to utilize resuscitation techniques, such as hypothermia therapy.
- Failure to order a timely C-section.
- Failure to address complications involving fetal presentation.
- Failure to address issues involving the uterus, umbilical cord, or placenta.
- Failure to accurately administer prenatal medications, labor-inducing drugs, or anesthesia.
- Failure to identify, diagnose, and treat potential pregnancy complications.
- Failure to warn parents about potential pregnancy complications.
- Failure to properly use medical tools and equipment.
- Failure to treat a newborn’s HIE symptoms.
An attending doctor needs to take great care when treating a newborn’s HIE symptoms. After all, the cells that were damaged from a lack of oxygen can still release toxins into the bloodstream once the air-blocking obstruction or issue is resolved. A doctor can mitigate the damage by properly utilizing proven treatment methods, such as head-cooling, mechanical ventilation, and hypothermia treatments.
Is Medical Negligence Responsible for Your Child’s HIE Diagnosis?
Contact The Mellino Law Firm if you believe a medical provider is responsible for your child’s HIE. Our trial-tested birth injury attorneys can investigate your case, help you complete and file a medical malpractice claim, and guide you through each stage of your unique legal journey.
To learn about your legal options, contact The Mellino Law Firm at (440) 276-3535 to schedule a free case evaluation.