Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition instigated by brain damage that results in significant cognitive, movement, and motor skill problems. Caused by injury to a vulnerable and developing brain, cerebral palsy is typically a consequence of the birthing process when there is a lack of oxygen or blood flow to a baby’s brain. Tragically, it is one of the most common and dangerous childhood motor disabilities and a substantial number of these diagnoses are the results of preventable injuries, medical negligence, and malpractice. Unfortunately, it only takes a few mishandled moments without oxygen to the child’s brain to produce devastating results. While not all cases of cerebral palsy are directly linked to medical or hospital negligence, the majority can be traced back to mistakes made by the OB-GYN, labor and delivery staff, nurses, attending physicians, etc.
Cerebral palsy can be complex to understand as it does not refer to a specific illness, but rather a collection of distinct movement disorders resulting from brain injury during pregnancy, childbirth, or early infancy. It permanently causes great harm to a child’s muscles and can be categorized in 1 of 2 ways: hypertonic CP, characterized by high muscle tone, rigidity, and stiffness, or hypotonic CP, resulting in low muscle tone and loss of strength.
There are 4 primary types of this condition, including:
- Spastic cerebral palsy makes up to 80% of all cerebral palsy cases and is caused by damage to the pyramidal tracts, resulting in disability muscle stiffness in one area of the child’s body. This can manifest as diplegia, hemiplegia, or quadriplegia. Children suffering from extreme cases suffer from mental delays, seizures, sensory loss, and complete physical disability.
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy, or athetoid cerebral palsy, can affect leg, arm, and facial muscles to become either stiff or too loose. Victims also suffer from very slow or rapid involuntary muscle movements in the face, torso, and limbs. Common symptoms include posture issues, stiff or floppy limbs, and problems with feeding.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy presents as a lack of balance and body coordination, adversely impacting motor skills. This type of CP is caused by damage to the cerebellum and results in reduced muscle tone, difficulty speaking, shakiness and tremors, depth perception issues, and more.
- Mixed cerebral palsy involves a combination of 2 or more of the above types of CP and can range in severity. As the least common diagnosis, it is the consequence of brain damage in multiple areas.
Cerebral Palsy: What Causes This Permanent Birth Injury?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a birth injury suffered by thousands of newborn children across the country each year. It can manifest in a variety of ways and categorizations, depending on what caused or contributed to its development.
In some rare cases, CP can be linked to a congenital risk factor. For example, a genetic disorder carried by the mother that causes her child to develop at a significantly low birth rate could cause cerebral palsy in her child. However, many incidents of CP in a newborn can actually be traced to preventable mistakes or issues. This type of cerebral palsy is called “acquired CP.”
Causes of acquired CP vary greatly, but may include:
- Oxygen deprivation: Cerebral palsy is known to have a high chance of occurrence if the infant experiences oxygen deprivation at any time during development and birth. Medical providers must pay close attention to a child’s positioning and oxygen levels while the mother is in labor. The umbilical cord can become wrapped around the child’s throat, causing suffocation and oxygen deprivation.
- Trauma during birth: In addition to oxygen deprivation, many other forms of trauma during birth can contribute to a high risk of CP, especially if some form of head trauma, brain injury, or placental abruption occurs. Head trauma can be caused by misuse of birth-assisting tools, like forceps and vacuum extractors.
- Premature birth: Children born before the 32nd week of pregnancy are highly vulnerable to developing CP. Obstetricians are tasked with monitoring the unborn child’s vital signs and the health of the pregnant mother to predict the risk of premature birth and make medical decisions accordingly.
- Infection: If a pregnant mother suffers a severe infection, it or its symptoms may spread to her unborn child, causing the development of CP. Once again, OB-GYNs need to monitor the health of their patients to look for signs of infection and act in a way that protects or preserves their health. Failure to do so could constitute medical malpractice.
- Lack of vaccination: Many vaccinations can protect against viruses and diseases that cause health complications in unborn children. Mothers without these vaccinations are at a higher risk of giving birth to a child with CP.
Twin Brothers Demonstrate The Challenges of Cerebral Palsy
It’s easy to assume that twins are alike. Even if they are not identical twins, there is still an assumption that they have many things in common. While often true, it need not always be. For example, what if one twin brother has cerebral palsy while the other does not?
For the twin brothers, now adults, their lives have been shaped by the one brother’s cerebral palsy. Even as adults, he has episodes of severe pain and must continue to undergo surgeries. He lives with cramps that can affect any part of his body and severely interfere with his life.
All of these things cost money, money that the twin with cerebral palsy may not have. If his birth injury was truly the fault of a doctor, nurse, or some other health care professional, his parents should have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on his behalf. These lawsuits are more than just about holding someone responsible for mistakes, they are also about providing the funds necessary to care for someone with cerebral palsy.
The Fruits of Ongoing Care Provided By Medical Malpractice Compensation
Though life can be difficult for those children with cerebral palsy, there are moments that can make them forget the lifelong care they will need. A senior in high school recently had one of those moments when his high school elected him the homecoming king. His friend, the head cheerleader, had encouraged students to vote for the teenager and the school overwhelmingly did. For a brief moment, the young man could be an average teenager instead of a teenager with cerebral palsy.
What made his coronation even more spectacular, however, was that this was the first time that the teen walked publicly. He rolled onto the football field in his wheelchair, but with the help of two people, he walked in front of the packed stadium before it was finally announced that he had won the homecoming crown. After spending a lifetime in a wheelchair and needing frequent medical care, this was an opportunity for this young man to leave his cerebral palsy behind for a few hours.
Cerebral Palsy Is Far Too Common
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 8,000 newborns are diagnosed with cerebral palsy in the United States each year. Babies born prematurely, as well as twins, triplets, and other multiple births, are at particularly high risk for cerebral palsy. A mother’s health during pregnancy — particularly conditions such as chickenpox, rubella, and certain bacterial infections — and complications during birth can also have a negative impact on her baby’s development.
Of course, doctors should recognize when a particular pregnancy presents a risk of conditions that can lead to cerebral palsy and should do all they can to mitigate the chance of injury. Some common signs that problems may be developing include severe jaundice, Rh blood incompatibility in mother and child, or oxygen deprivation at some time during delivery.
If your doctor overlooked your baby’s seizures of other signs of cerebral palsy as a less serious medical condition, you may have a medical malpractice claim. It is the responsibility of doctors and other medical professionals to evaluate an infant’s motor skills when development concerns are raised. If your doctor or any other medical professional failed to order a diagnostic test to further examine your baby’s motor reflexes, you may have a medical malpractice claim.
These lawsuits were created to help the child who was harmed by a medical professional’s mistake. The suit is presented to the medical professional’s insurance company as a request for compensation for the mistake. It is enough that your child and your family will suffer, you should not have to suffer financially, too. If you are awarded compensation, the monetary sum given to you will ideally cover medical expenses both future and past, as well as lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional trauma and lifelong care.
Speaking of lifelong care, such is the case of a young girl who was awarded $130 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Though either 10 or 11 years old, she has never been able to write, walk, or speak. Nor can she swallow without help. It is likely that she will need help for the rest of her life, which is not something her parents can provide without the resources provided by a medical malpractice lawsuit.