Medical Malpractice – Anoxic Brain Injury/Faulty Fetal Heart Monitoring

Medical Malpractice Image

Anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen intake for any significant amount of time. The cells within the brain require oxygen to function; a lack of oxygen causes the brain cells to die.

Oxygen deprivation to the brain ( anoxic brain injury ) can occur in any situation where oxygen intake is compromised, for example, drowning or choking. A common cause of anoxic brain injury is deprivation of oxygen to an infant during the birth process.

Traumatic Birth Injuries

Birth injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances and conditions, some of which are beyond the control of medical care. However, there are birth injuries that are a direct result of substandard medical care, medical negligence, or medical malpractice. These are situations where the doctor, hospital or other care giver could have and should have prevented the damage or injury.

Traumatic birth injuries to the baby can be classified as either “mechanical” or”anoxic”. Mechanical injuries refer to damage to the child’s physical body as a result of birth trauma inflicted by manipulation, pushing, pulling, instruments, bruising, pressure, and other physical injuries. Anoxic injury refers to any situation which deprives the baby of oxygen to the brain. Decreased oxygen supply can be responsible for a wide variety of injuries, and may not be immediately apparent.

Anoxic Brain Injury

The most unfortunate thing about anoxic brain injuries to a baby during delivery is that, in almost all instances, the injury could have been prevented. The wonders of modern technology allow delivery room personnel (doctors, nurses, midwives, aides, etc.) to carefully monitor the infant’s heartbeat, which will immediately alert competent professionals to fetal distress. If the infant is quickly rescued, damage can almost always be avoided.

Anoxic brain injury is almost always due to negligence in one or more of these areas:

  1. Failure to closely and carefully monitor the results of the Fetal Heart Monitor, commonly called “fetal strips” , “tracings” or “heart monitor tracings”
  2. Misreading fetal strips
  3. Failure to notify the doctor at the first sign of fetal distress as indicated by the fetal strips
  4. Failure on the part of the doctor to perform a timely delivery or caesarean delivery (C-section).

Faulty Fetal Heart Monitoring

The fetal heart monitor lets caregivers know at any moment what the status of the baby’s health is. This makes oxygen deprivation and anoxic brain injury an almost always preventable tragedy. Substandard care comes into place when medical professionals fail to monitor the results of the monitor (called fetal strips); inaccurately read the results, or fail to notify appropriate personal in the event of a problem. The whole point of the fetal heart monitor is to be able to monitor any signs of fetal distress and to take swift and appropriate corrective action. Brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation is preventable with appropriate monitoring and medical care. Failure to do so is unforgivable and preventable negligence.

Signs and Symptoms of Anoxic Brain Injury

  1. Seizures in the first 24 to 48 hours of life may be a sign of fetal lack of oxygen.
  2. Low Apgar scores: Newborns are given an Apgar Score at birth and 5 minutes post-delivery. A low score may be an indication of fetal lack of oxygen to the brain during labor and/or delivery.
  3. Low Cord pH – Too much acid in the umbilical cord blood might indicate that there was oxygen deprivation to the infant.
  4. Weakness and/or abnormal muscle tone
  5. Decreased levels of arousability
  6. Breath holding (apnea)
  7. Difficulty feeding with poor suck and swallow

Results of Anoxic Brain Injury and Faulty Fetal Heart Monitoring

The heartbreaking – and usually preventable – results of fetal distress and oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain include:

  1. Cerebral palsy
  2. Brain damage
  3. Speech disability
  4. Quadraplegia
  5. Neurological damage include spasticity, weakness and the necessity for leg braces or wheelchair for mobility

Often the consequences of oxygen deprivation to the fetal brain are devastating lifelong injuries and a lifetime of dependant care. A recently cited case example is the story of a 36-year-old mother whose pregnancy and delivery were normal until the mother developed a high fever 8 hours into her labor with a deceleration of the fetal heart rate that was not monitored by the attending medical personnel. The infant was born with no heart rate, blue, floppy, and apneic. Although resuscitated, within a few days she exhibited general seizures with tremors in the lower and upper extremities. An MRI revealed that the infant had severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. The child will remain fully dependent throughout her life and is not expected to develop beyond the level of a one month old infant.

This is a dramatic example of failure to closely watch and respond to deceleration indicated by the fetal heart monitor and the catastrophic consequences that can result.

Contact Information

To contact us for a free confidential consult, you can call us at (850) 435-7000 (Pensacola) or (800) 277-1193 (toll free). You also can request a free private and confidential evaluation by clicking Medical Malpractice Evaluation Form, and your inquiry will be immediately reviewed by one of our attorneys who handles your specific type case.