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Medical Staff And Family Of Baby With Brain Injury Settle Claim For More Than $1.0 Million
A fetus requires a continuous supply of blood to receive the necessary nutrients and oxygen. When a pregnant woman has significant vaginal bleeding in the late stages of her pregnancy, there is a danger that it is due to placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates prematurely from the woman’s uterus, resulting in the rupture of blood vessels in the uterus. area and the deprivation of necessary oxygen to the fetus.
As such, medical professionals must correctly determine the cause of the bleeding and its effect on the fetus. When the bleeding is also accompanied by an abnormal fetal heart rate, it may be necessary to perform an emergency C-section. If this does not happen, the baby may suffer severe lifelong disabilities or may even die. Consider, for example, the following reported case.
In the 39th week of pregnancy an expectant mother felt that a flow of colorless fluid was leaving her and went to the hospital. Once at the hospital the staff examined her and put a fetal heart rate monitor on her. Approximately 7 1/2 hours after her admission she experienced a burst of blood from her vagina. In fact, the doctor in charge of her care observed that the blood was red in color. Checking the fetal heart rate the doctor found that it was not reactive but rather than switch to an internal monitor to more accurately determine the fetal heart rate the doctor instead decided to simply continue to monitor her progress. An ultrasound did not reveal the cause of the bleeding. And rather than appreciating the significance of the bleeding as a sign of placental abruption, the doctor concluded that it was simply a sign of progressing labor.
Within 45 minutes the staff observed slowdowns in the fetus’s heart rate. After another 10 minutes the monitor strips were suspicious for worsening fetal distress. Rather than checking the pH of the fetus’s scalp to better determine the condition of the fetus or simply perform an emergency section, the doctor and staff again continued the period of observation. After another 10 minutes a nurse observed the fetal heart rate slowing down to 50. It was only at this point that they attempted their first intervention by repositioning the mother and starting oxygen. The expectant mother then experienced another wave of bleeding and the fetal heart rate monitor showed continued decelerations. Even with these ominous signs the nurse took another five minutes before calling the doctor. Despite the presence of these issues no additional measures were taken at this point.
Twenty more minutes passed and now there was another wave of bleeding. The fetal heart rate monitor then indicated moderate to minimal variability. Within half an hour, despite the presence of the bleeding, the woman was placed on an epidural. After about 40 more minutes the first doctor was replaced by another. And still no measures were taken even though the fetal heart rate continued to include decelerations with a late component and the woman continued to bleed. The baby was finally delivered vaginally just over two hours later.
At birth the baby had difficulty breathing and showed little to moderate responsiveness. The blood pH of the cord registered as acidic. In addition, the amniotic fluid contained meconium. These are all signs that the baby was in distress. A pediatric specialist was consulted and after finding that the baby was suffering from oxygen deprivation the baby was intubated. Indeed, the delay in delivering the baby led to a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation which in turn caused severe neurological injuries. At the age of five the baby had a serious disability. He could not crawl or even sit without help. He was legally blind. He suffered kidney damage and required a transplant. And he showed cognitive delays.
The parents brought a lawsuit on behalf of the baby naming the two doctors and the nurses as defendants. The law firm that represented the family could report that they reach a settlement in the sum of 1.2 million USD on behalf of the family.
As this case shows, a child can suffer devastating permanent injuries if placental abruption occurs while the mother is in labor and the doctors and nurses caring for her do not act immediately. Although in this case the staff performed an ultrasound, which did not reveal the presence of placental abruption, no effort was made to determine the source of the bleeding and the worrying changes in the fetal heart rate. It is almost as if once the initial signs were discounted the medical staff were locked into a single perspective from which all subsequent developments were interpreted. As a result, everything that happened was viewed as part of a normal work process. In a medical situation, clinging to a particular interpretation can, as in the case examined above, lead to a tragic outcome.
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