A Kansas couple has recently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming two physicians and a hospital negligently cause a birth injury to their son, Jaxson, resulting in severe brain damage. Christy May was admitted for delivery at 38 weeks gestation. Her pregnancy had been unremarkable. After May was given medications to speed up delivery including Oxytocin, Jaxson began experiencing severe bradycardia or slowed heart rate. The May family contends Jaxson's heart was bradycardic for 40 minutes before he was eventually delivered by cesarean section. With a heart rate of 60 at delivery, medical staff began emergency measures to help Jaxson including chest compression. Before Jaxson was airlifted to another hospital, Jaxson was diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy--at type of birth injury that causes brain damage.
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (or HIE) is a condition where the brain does not receive enough oxygen. This condition often refers to a lack of oxygen in newborns associated with labor and delivery complications, resulting in a birth injury. Within as little as five minutes, HIE begins killing brain cells. Once brain cells begin to die, brain damage ensues. This can cause intellectual disabilities, development delays, seizures, and cerebral palsy. However, damage from HIE is not necessarily limited to the brain. HIE can also affect other organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys, and muscles.
In the United States, six out of every 1,000 babies born suffer some type of birth injury. Fortunately, not all birth injuries involve brain injury nor are all birth injuries permanent. However, when a birth injury is permanent, particularly those involving brain damage, the consequences are usually devastating to the baby and the baby's family. Of course, simply because a baby suffers a birth injury, even when permanent, does not mean medical malpractice occurred. When a birth injury results from a deviation from the standard of care and that deviation caused the birth injury, it is reasonable to conclude the baby's brain damage was caused by medical malpractice.
In the Jaxson May case, negligence and causation will almost certainly be hotly contested. The May family will likely argue the doctors and hospital failed recognize or appreciate Jaxson's fetal distress and to timely order an emergency cesarean section. Had this been done, the family may prove their son would not have suffered brain damage. The defense will likely claim they did not deviate from the standard of care and, instead, exercised sound judgment in attempting to proceed with a vaginal delivery before ordering a cesarean section. In doing so, the defense will likely argue it is unfair to look at their actions with the benefit of hindsight. On causation, the defense will probably argue that Jaxson's brain damage did not occur from a labor and delivery complication. Instead, the defense will likely argue the child's brain damage occurred before labor and delivery (ie., during pregnancy)--a common defense raised in many birth injury cases. As with many medical malpractice cases involving birth injury, much of the case will come down to a battle of the experts and which lawyers can present their case most effectively to a jury.
Dodge Globe, Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filed Against Two Physicians, Hospital, March 10, 2012.
NYU Langone Medical Center, Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, Last Reviewed December 2011.
ABC Action News, How Medical Malpractice Leads To Birth Injuries, January 27, 2012.