Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Confounds Parents — And Doctors

Oxygen is a crucial component in the healthy development of an unborn baby. If something compromises the flow of oxygen to the fetus, a dangerous condition may result, known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy can cause profound injury, including severe brain damage and death, so it's crucial for doctors to recognize the warning signs and act quickly. This typically involves monitoring a baby's oxygen levels during birth. If hospital staff members detect a low oxygen level, it may necessitate an emergency C-section.

Getting an oxygen-deprived baby out of the womb is only half the battle. Actions after the infant's birth may directly affect the infant's outlook. One technique, brain hypothermia, has steadily been gaining traction as a common technique for treating infants with HIE.

Hypothermia Can Be A Good Thing?

Most of us think of hypothermia as a harmful state that occurs when the body's core temperature drops to dangerous lows. However, researchers have discovered that brain hypothermia can slow down the damaging effects of HIE and ultimately stop them.

Two simple tools, a water-cooled cap or a fluid-filled blanket, induce brain hypothermia. These cooling blankets and hats lower an oxygen-deprived child's temperature to 93 degrees for 72 hours following birth. Many doctors claim that these simple pieces of equipment can have a profound impact on a child suffering from hypoxia, but not everyone's convinced.

Dr. George D. Lundberg, editor-in-chief of Medscape Journal of Medicine, believes that induced hypothermia does more damage than good.

Lundberg points to a Toronto study that involved 225 children born with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). One group of children was given hypothermia treatment following birth, while the other was not. Thirty-one percent of the children in the brain hypothermia group suffered an unfavorable outcome, including severe brain damage or death, versus 22 percent of the babies in the group that didn't receive cooling treatment.

Brain Hypothermia Becomes Standard

Despite disagreement in the medical community, induced hypothermia is now a standard treatment for oxygen-starved babies. The brain-cooling debate is emblematic of the greater issues surrounding treatment for serious complications during and after birth. Does strong medical intervention do more harm than good? It's hard to decisively prove, one way or the other.

All physicians can agree that early detection and intervention are the most important for babies who aren't receiving enough oxygen. Minutes can make all the difference, and perpetually monitoring an infant's heartbeat and oxygen levels is crucial.

Children With Brain Injuries Do Have Legal Rights

HIE can result in cerebral palsy and developmental problems. These medical conditions often necessitate special care and treatment to provide the child with the best life possible. Sadly, specialized treatment is extremely expensive. Parents facing the prospect of providing in-depth care to their disabled child for life are also vulnerable to becoming impoverished.

When medical negligence causes or contributes to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, the baby's parents should strongly consider filing a birth injury lawsuit. An injury suit can recover money damages that will give the child the level of health care and resources that he or she deserves.

To discuss your child's unique situation, contact an experienced birth injury attorney. Act swiftly, as every state has strict time limits for bringing medical malpractice actions. Further, it's easier for lawyers to collect and preserve evidence when they are contacted soon after an act of negligence.

About McKeen & Associates, PC

McKeen & Associates, PC, is a leading birth injury law firm. Located in Detroit, McKeen & Associates has an extensive national network of resources to help families throughout the U.S. For a list of representative medical malpractice cases, visit McKeen & Associates' verdicts and settlements page.