As an expectant parent, nothing brings you more joy than to have a happy and healthy baby. However, medical negligence during pregnancy and the delivery process may cause the newborn to develop cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a devastating health problem which often occurs as a result of low oxygen levels reaching the brain of an infant during labor or delivery. Regardless of how minor or severe the condition is, its impact on the child and parents is for a lifetime. While some newborns suffer cerebral palsy through no fault of anyone, about 10% of infants born with the condition develop it due to medical negligence.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects motor function and muscle coordination. While a deficient amount of oxygen in the baby’s brain is the leading cause of cerebral palsy, numerous factors can impact the child’s brain, and result in this disorder. The brain regulates most motor functions, so when it is damaged, body movements and other important functions are affected. Though most children diagnosed with cerebral palsy were born with the condition, whether due to medical negligence or other factors, others may acquire it within the first few years of life.
Types Of Cerebral Palsy Caused By Medical Negligence
A number of neurological disorders are considered cerebral palsy. Types of cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence include spastic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy and ataxic cerebral palsy.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Representing over 70% of diagnoses, spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form of cerebral palsy. the muscle of people who suffer this condition feel stiff and their movements typically appear jerky. The muscles feel stiff as a result of incorrect messages sent to the muscles due to the damage done to the brain. Spasticity, a form of hypertonia, is caused by damage to bundles of neurons in the brain and spinal cord known as corticobulbar tracts and corticospinal tracts.
What Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?
This is a developmental disorder which arises as a result of damage to the brain during pregnancy, delivery or within the first few years of the child’s life. The stiffness and jerkiness caused by this condition makes simple tasks, like walking or even picking up small objects, more challenging. Some children suffering spastic cerebral palsy also develop co-occurring conditions ranging from epilepsy to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Effects of Spastic Cerebral Palsy on The Upper Limbs (Arms and Hands)
Spasticity affecting one or both arms could lead to flexion at the elbow (causing bent elbow), flexion at the wrist (causing bent wrist), and flexion at the fingers (causing fisted fingers). When spasticity affects these areas, the individual will experience difficulty in getting dressed, writing, toileting oneself, handling objects, eating or drinking, washing. It may also affect the person’s ability to effectively use their arms for balance which can cause difficulty in walking or standing.
Effects on the Lower Limbs (Legs)
Spasticity affecting one or both legs could lead to adduction of the thighs (causing the legs to pull together), flexion at the hip (causing the leg to lift upwards when lying), flexion at the knees (causing changes in standing posture) and equinovarus foot posture (causing limited upward bending motion of the ankle joint). Spasticity in one or both legs may affect a person’s ability to walk and run, stand upright, move or adjust in bed, sit upright or move from one position to another.
Effects on Speech
Spasticity can also affect smaller muscle groups such as the vocal folds, facial muscles and tongue. When spasticity affects these areas, the person may suffer imprecise and slow oral movements, a tight or hoarse voice and slurred speech. This can affect the communication ability of such one, and may mean that alternative communication options such as voice generating devices, pictures and symbols are used.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Athetoid cerebral palsy is a movement disorder characterized by uncontrolled movements. Affecting about 10% of children with cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy causes the affected individual to make erratic movements, especially when in motion. Children with athetoid cerebral palsy usually experience muscle tone fluctuations – as the muscle can be stiff at times (hypertonia) or floppy at other times (hypotonia).
Effects of Athetoid CP On the Basal Ganglia
The basal ganglia refers to a set of brain structures responsible for the coordination of voluntary movement. They help the brain control motor function and also help in the regulation of learning and thinking. As a result, when there is damage to the basal ganglia, the motor function is affected, and the person experiences involuntary movements.
Effects of Athetoid CP On the Cerebellum
The cerebellum regulates the precision of movements and coordination – two essentials for balance and fine motor skills. The cerebellum is also essential to cognitive functions such as attention and communication. Damage to the cerebellum makes coordination and balance challenging. It also causes co-occurring disorders like epilepsy and autism.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
This is the least common type of cerebral palsy, affecting about 5 to 10% of children with CP. Ataxic cerebral palsy is derived from the word “ataxia”, meaning lack of order and coordination. In addition to tremors, children suffering this condition experience speech and oral problems. There is currently no cure for ataxic CP. However, there are a range of medical procedures that can help children cope with its challenges.
Effects of Ataxic CP on Speech
Children with ataxic CP may experience what is known as ‘scanning speech’ – speaking in a monotone voice characterized by a combination of accelerations and pauses while talking. While speaking, children may also give off a breathing sound.
Effects of Ataxic CP on the Oral Cavity
Most children and even adults suffering ataxic CP may experience difficulty swallowing fluids and foods. They may also experience delayed gastric and intestinal responsiveness, ultimately leading to issues like gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) and acid reflux.
When Does Medical Negligence Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is often caused by asphyxia (insufficient oxygen supply to the body), hypoxia (insufficient oxygen supply to the brain), trauma during delivery, or premature delivery. All of these can arise from negligent care during labor or childbirth. However, that a baby is born with cerebral palsy does not necessarily mean that medical malpractices have been responsible. There could still be negative outcomes even when health professionals exercise the greatest possible care while attending to mother and child.
But there are common mistakes doctors, nurses and health professionals make when medical negligence has caused cerebral palsy:
- Failure to appropriately monitor the fetal heart rate during labor and childbirth
- Delaying important cesarean section in the face of an emergency
- Failure to set up a cesarean section when the baby cannot be delivered vaginally
- Failure to spot and give attention to a prolapsed umbilical cord
- Failure to identify and take care of infections in the mother during pregnancy
- Other medical malpractices related to the use of medical instruments like vacuum or forceps during delivery.
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How to make a Cerebral Palsy Claim?
Averaging over $1 million for lifelong care, taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can be quite expensive. This is typically more than an average family can afford. Making cerebral palsy claims can help parents obtain compensation that can help offset the overwhelming expenses associated with taking care of a child with cerebral palsy. These expenses could cover medication, lost wages, transportation, counseling, special education, home accommodations, physical therapy, pain and suffering, and assistive equipment such as soundboards, walkers, or wheelchairs.
However, filing a medical negligence lawsuit can be time consuming and complicated. To boost your chances of success, it is important that you work with knowledgeable medical negligence solicitors and medical experts. Medical negligence solicitors will ask for all relevant medical records while a medical expert will organize a medical examination and provide a subsequent report. All of these are aimed at ensuring you are able to prove that the treatment you received fell below the acceptable standards.
Your claim must also be made within two years of the date of the injury or two years following the date you had knowledge of the injury. Since cerebral palsy is a birth related injury, the time limit is calculated from the baby’s date of birth. At this stage, a parent can make a claim on behalf of the child if they wish to do so. But if the child is the injured party, the two-year time limit only begins when the child turns 18 years of age.