Spinal Injuries / Paralysis
The process of being born – even under the best circumstances – can be traumatic for the fetus. Although incidence of neonatal injury as a result of a difficult delivery is somewhat decreasing due to the climbing rates of cesarean-section deliveries (rather than use of forceps and vacuum extractions), injuries do still occur – some of them extremely serious in nature.
Among those: Spinal injuries and paralysis.
At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, we are familiar with the complexities of these cases, recognizing that most spinal cord injuries result from excessive longitudinal traction of the spinal cord combined with:
- Hyperextension (stretching)
- Hyperflexion (movement of a limb beyond normal limits)
- Torsion (twisting)
Spinal cord injuries among infants are relatively rare. They account for about 5 percent of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. However, for those affected, it can mean a lifetime of medical issues, ranging from mild to severe.
A diagnosis of spinal cord injury for a baby is can be overwhelming and scary. Our goal here is to provide some basic information to help you understand the issue so you can make a better informed choice regarding your legal options.Understanding Infant Spinal Cord Damage
There are two general causes of spinal cord damage among infants:
- A pre-existing medical condition
- Blunt force trauma during birth
Where blunt force trauma has occurred resulting in spinal cord injury to newborns, researchers have identified three main pathologic patterns:
- Meningeal damage with epidural hemorrhage;
- Laceration or avulsion of spinal nerve roots;
- Laceration and distortion of cord to complete cord transection.
These are the technical medical terms used to describe the type of damage suffered by the baby. Most often, these occur during difficult deliveries. These can involve deep cuts or damage to spinal cord nerves and damage to an artery in the brain resulting in bleeding and spinal damage.
Even where there is a pre-existing condition is present, a doctor may be liable for further injury if the condition is not properly diagnosed prior to birth so that proper precautions can be taken. Take spina bifida for example. This is a genetic condition present before birth that occurs when the vertebrae hasn’t closed completely over the raw nerves of the spine. This condition should be diagnosed long in advance of birth. However if it is not, the nerves of the spinal column could be severely damaged if the medical staff doesn’t know about the condition and touches those nerves.
According to an article published in the medical journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, spinal cord injuries and brain stem injuries that occur at birth often escape correct diagnosis.
In many cases, spinal cord injury may be misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy. This in and of itself may be a form of medical malpractice if the true condition was obvious and if the delay in obtaining the correct diagnosis resulted in harm to the child.
Researchers have established that spinal cord or brain stem injury accounted for 10 to 33 percent of neonatal deaths autopsied.Outcomes of Spinal Cord Injuries
The Boston Children’s Hospital notes the higher the location of the injury on the spine, the more significant the damage. The most serious spinal cord injuries can cause:
- Paraplegia – Loss of sensation in the lower half of the body
- Quadriplegia/ Tetraplegia – Loss of feeling and movement from the chest down, including in both arms and legs
- Intellectual disabilities.
Other potential injuries include:
- Loss of sensations
- Bladder and bowel control problems
- Abnormal reflexes
- Breathing difficulty
- Pain caused by nerve damage to spinal cord
The majority of spinal cord injuries – 75 percent, according to the Boston Children’s Hospital – occur in the neck area. About 20 percent affect the upper back and chest. The remaining 5 to 20 percent affect the spinal cord in the lower back.
When paralysis does occur, it can be either:
- Complete – With no sensation or ability to control movement below the level of injury;
- Incomplete – Allowing some sensation and control of muscle movement below the injury.
Some children do recover with the use of an orthotic brace or lumbar brace that keeps the baby still while the spinal cord heals. Some require surgery and ongoing medication and special services.
In cases where the negligence of a doctor caused or contributed to a baby’s spinal cord injury and paralysis, families may seek compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of consortium and more.