One of the saddest things that I remember from my time as a hospital administrator was learning that a young family’s baby was born with an unexpected brain injury. Whenever this happens, parents and family members are left devastated, and the OB/GYN physicians and labor and delivery nurses are emotionally impacted, too.
In some situations, a birth-related brain injury is caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a condition that takes place during late pregnancy or labor and delivery, in which there is a shortage of oxygen and blood flow to the brain that causes brain damage.
Medical researchers have come to know that HIE is an evolving process, rather than a condition where permanent brain damage occurs suddenly and at once. In fact, there is a treatment that can be administered in a narrow window that can prevent or minimize permanent brain damage from HIE. That’s why it’s critical for physicians and labor and delivery staff to jump into action to assess and make treatment decisions in cases of a newborn brain injury.
We’ve all heard the term hypothermia, although usually in the context of someone who fell in a freezing cold lake or stayed outside in frigid temperatures too long.
Therapeutic hypothermia works with the same basic idea. It involves cooling the newborn to allow the baby’s brain to recover from a hypoxic-ischemic injury. Physicians typically aim for a target cooling temperature of 92.3 degrees. Some facilities provide therapeutic hypothermia treatment by cooling the whole body, while others use a cooling cap that targets the brain.
Timing. Timing for this type of therapy is important. According to experts, the ideal time to start hypothermia therapy is within six hours of birth. Sometimes, though, it may be helpful even outside that window. As with many medical treatments, the sooner the therapy begins, the greater the odds that the newborn’s potential disabilities and impairments will be minimized.
Eligibility. Medical guidelines spell out that a newborn with seizures and/or clinical signs of brain damage is a candidate for therapeutic hypothermia therapy, if one or more of the following factors are also present:
• There was a recognized complication or birth injury that deprived the baby of oxygen.
• The baby’s Apgar score at 10 minutes after birth was 5 or less. Apgar scoring is a quick method to assess the newborn’s health that’s used in virtually every hospital.
• The baby required prolonged resuscitation after birth.
• The baby was severely acidotic (high levels of acid in the blood).
• The baby had abnormal lab work (either abnormal umbilical or neonatal blood gas results).
Working for the best outcome
As with any treatment, there is no guarantee that therapeutic hypothermia will completely reverse the effects of a hypoxic-ischemic injury. The medical research demonstrates, though, that it’s currently the best therapy to implement when a baby is born with an HIE-related birth injury.
If you suspect that your child has a brain injury or birth injury caused by HIE, it’s important to contact a top-rated, experienced medical malpractice and birth injury attorney to help investigate and evaluate your potential case.
Painter Law Firm is based in Houston, Texas, but handles this type of case throughout the State of Texas and nationwide.