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Erb's Palsy: Many Infants Fully Recover, Some Never Do

Erb's palsy is a birth injury to an infant's nerves around the shoulder, leading to below-average hand and arm strength in mild cases, to complete paralysis in the most severe cases. Erb's palsy is generally associated with difficult deliveries, often where the baby was stuck in the birth canal, and health care providers failed to provide a timely delivery by C-section.

Many infants fully recover from Erb's palsy but there are those who never will - despite efforts at rehabilitation and surgery.

"Though there are reports of C-sections becoming more widely used when not necessary," writes Annette Manwell for the Holland Sentinel, "there are times the procedure should be used."

After a difficult birth that did involve a C-section (rather, it involved the doctor and nurse pulling on the newborn), doctors discovered that Manwell's only son Gabriel had Erb's palsy, for which he has been treated since he was a week old. Manwell fears that treatment will always be necessary; that her son will never fully recover; that he will never be able to participate in sports like swimming.

It's unclear exactly how seriously Gabriel's injuries are, but his case appears to be one of the most serious, necessitating a surgery (probably some form of tendon transfer) that may or may not improve the outcome.

But what clearly galls Manwell is the cause of her son's affliction.

Her son's Erb's palsy didn't come about from a car accident or gunshot wound or anything like that - both of which can cause Erb's palsy in adults. Manwell ends her piece with: "It was preventable."

Source: Holland Sentinel, "Brachial plexus: A child's injury that doesn't have to happen," by Annette Manwell, 10/31/11

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