What should I do if I think my baby has Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE?)

Healthcare providers may have missed signs or diagnoses, mismanaged a high-risk pregnancy, miscommunicated, failed to take the appropriate precautions, failed to deliver adequate care, or not responded with enough speed or expertise in an emergency to prevent or limit injury. If so, that falls into the category of medical malpractice or medical negligence and you can hold them accountable.

Our legal team regularly handles complicated cases. The true effects or severity of HIE may not be able to be fully observed until a child reaches toddler age, so these cases are complex and challenging to prepare.

We can help you understand the causes of your baby’s injuries and find the experts and specialists to support your claim, as well as determine the future impacts to your family and your baby’s lifetime care and development.

Even if it was unintentional, if a healthcare provider harmed your baby, you have a right to receive compensation for your medical expenses, follow-on treatment or surgical expenses, adaptive learning, physical and emotional support, and much more. To assess the impact and tell your and your child’s best story, you’ll want the help of an HIE lawyer, someone well-versed in the complexities of birth injuries.

What is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)?

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a birth injury caused by limited blood flow and oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain, which results in brain damage. It’s an emergency that often requires an emergency C-section.

What causes HIE or how does it occur?

HIE results from a reduction in blood and oxygen to the brain, but has multiple causes or risk factors. These include:

  • Improper fetal heart monitoring
  • Medication problems
  • Placental irregularities
  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Maternal or fetal infections
  • Maternal cardiac disease
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Maternal obesity
  • Fetal infections
  • Fetal stroke
  • Preeclampsia
  • Premature birth
  • Prolonged labor or stress during delivery

What are the signs or symptoms?

Some signs and risk factors, such as the maternal conditions listed above, are diagnosable during pregnancy.

Babies born with HIE may display any number of the following symptoms immediately or early on:

  • Lack of alertness
  • Impaired muscle movement or poor muscle tone
  • Weak breathing
  • Low heart rate
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Seizures

It can sometimes take months, or even years, before parents notice symptoms that indicate their child suffered a brain injury due to HIE. Some symptoms that can present over time, include:

  • Impaired motor function
  • Cognitive issues
  • Delayed development
  • Epilepsy
  • Organ dysfunctions (heart, lungs, kidneys, etc.)

Are there different forms of HIE?

HIE’s condition and symptoms vary individually and can present with mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. Severity is determined through different physical observation tests, as well as blood gas tests and various forms of brain imaging like CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasound.

Is the condition treatable?

Since HIE is a form of brain damage, it is not curable. However, prompt response and treatment immediately after birth can slow the spread of damage, reducing the symptoms and level of disability the child will experience as it ages.

The primary emergency treatment for HIE at birth is called therapeutic hypothermia, where the baby’s brain and/or body is cooled below normal temperature to slow the baby’s metabolic rate. This controlled hypothermia slows a chain reaction of cellular damage that continues long after the initial brain damage event, and which can spread faster and further with heat and inflammation. While this does not reverse the initial damage to the brain, it can diminish the spread of the brain injury in the hours and days that follow.

Other treatments that healthcare providers might use to support the baby during this critical time may include breathing support and anesthesia or medication to help control seizures.

Beyond the immediate emergency, there are a wide variety of treatments and therapies that can help a child living with HIE reduce symptoms and maximize function and quality of life. These might include physical therapy, massage therapy, recreational therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral and emotional therapy, medication, adaptive technologies, and service animal assistance.

What are the results or long-term impacts of this condition?

Babies with moderate to severe HIE frequently have multiple challenges as they age, dealing with physical and intellectual disabilities and managing long-term health conditions, while babies with mild symptoms may have a life without many limitations at all. In severe cases of HIE, a baby may have a shortened lifespan.

Because HIE is a form of brain damage, the child may have limited use of its limbs and difficulty with mobility, speech, and personal care. The disorder will impact their physical capabilities, learning and development, education, and ability to be independent, as well as their family’s financial situation, quality of life, and peace of mind.

If your baby has suffered a birth injury, you need an HIE lawyer who has experience with complicated cases; call (503) 203-0015 for a free consultation.

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