Spinal Cord Injury from Birth Trauma
Attorneys for Babies with Spine Injuries at Birth in New Jersey
The spinal cord is a complex network of nerve fibers that send information down a pathway within the bony spinal column from the brain to the rest of the body and from the rest of the body back to the brain. It conveys sensory messages from muscles, skin, bone, and organs. Due to the integral role that the spinal cord plays in the proper functioning of the entire body, injuries affecting the spine can be dramatic and highly damaging for babies. When the spinal cord is injured at birth through bruising, partial or complete tearing of the spinal cord, permanent damage or death may result. In some situations, these significant birth injuries occur due to twisting of the baby’s neck, pulling too hard to remove the child from the birth canal, or employing assisted delivery devices. In other cases, the fetus is affected by a spinal condition in utero that should have been diagnosed and appropriately managed during delivery. Depending on the type and extent of the particular spinal cord birth injury, a child may require extensive medical treatment and continued therapy for the remainder of their life.
What are the Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries during Birth?
Certainly, a spinal cord birth injury leaves serious damage. So how does a baby’s spine become injured during delivery? Many factors contribute to and cause these injuries, including:
- The baby is in breech position
- A baby with heavy weight (macrosomia)
- Very low birth weight (common with premature babies)
- The fetal and maternal pelvic size do not allow for vaginal birth (known as cephalopelvic disproportion)
- Mishandling of shoulder dystocia
- Hyperextended head (bent backward)
- When the baby’s neck or spine is contorted or squeezed
- Labor that goes on for too long or occurs too quickly
- Excessive force pulling the baby through the canal
- Forceps errors
- Mistakes with vacuum extraction
- First-time pregnancy
The risk factors for spinal cord injury should put your doctor on high alert to be prepared and plan for delivery, which often involves a C-section to avoid birth trauma. Sadly, some spine injuries are not prevented with timely identification of common circumstances that place babies at risk. In addition, some babies’ spinal cords are actually injured due to errors on the part of the medical professionals responsible for delivery. Once a spinal cord birth injury has occurred, doctors must immediately take action to identify the type of injury and initiate treatment to prevent further damage.
What are the Different Types of Neonatal Spinal Cord Injuries?
A spinal cord injury during childbirth, known as an acute spinal cord injury or SCI, can be either complete or incomplete. Complete injury results in the total loss of movement or feeling from the injury site and below. Incomplete injury results in partial movement and sensation from the injury site downward. Symptoms of spinal cord birth injuries can include a baby’s inability to move their arms, legs, and chest; loss of sensation in the extremities; labored breathing; non-elimination; erratic blood pressure; sweating; shivering; and organ dysfunction. In general, specific symptoms correspond to the spine injury location. For instance, neck injuries may cause tetraplegia, paralysis, or weakness of the muscles in the arms and legs and below the injury site. Upper spinal cord injuries typically affect the chest and breathing, and lower spinal cord injuries potentially cause paraplegia characterized by paralysis or weakness in legs, bladder, bowel, and genitals. Injury of the upper thoracic spine just below the neck can cause quadriplegia or paralysis affecting all four limbs and the chest.
Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Injuries in Newborns
When a baby is born with weak or nonfunctional arm and leg muscles, they seem flaccid and floppy, or they show other signs and symptoms of spinal cord damage, doctors might suspect cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or spinal cord injury during birth, as they all share common symptoms. By ruling out cerebral palsy and spina bifida through appropriate testing, a doctor can confirm that a baby’s symptoms are the result of spinal cord damage. Notably, spina bifida can be detected in the womb and cerebral palsy often takes time to show symptoms. Spinal cord injury symptoms, however, are immediately apparent. To confirm, healthcare providers may conduct blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, and MRI’s to reveal bone, vertebral, and nerve damage resulting from trauma to the spinal cord. These tests also aid healthcare providers in locating the damage along the spine.
What is the Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury during Delivery?
The healthcare team must be ready to prevent further damage once they note spinal cord problems in infants. At birth, necessary treatment may require doctors to stabilize the baby’s head and neck, in addition to providing breathing, feeding and elimination assistance. Medical professionals may also need to observe a baby’s vitals in the NICU while administering inflammation-reducing and pain medications. By injecting corticosteroids to reduce swelling in the affected part of the spine, performing surgery to relieve nerve pressure or repair broken bones, and utilizing equipment assistance for breathing, feeding, and eliminating waste, medical providers can ensure that your child has the best outcome after their spine is injured during birth. The recovery is long and treatment should begin immediately.
Treatment for spinal injuries and therapeutic rehabilitation can assist with ensuring the child’s highest adaptation and living the best possible independent life. To that effect, medical professionals like physical, occupational, and speech therapists can help the young patient to control muscle spasticity and atrophy (muscles spasms and wasting of muscles) to improve movement and avoid further complications from immobility, such as bedsores and pneumonia.
Unfortunately, some children with spinal cord injuries never fully recover. As your child grows, they may need continuing therapies, medical devices, medications, as well as frequent doctor visits and tests to monitor their development. The child’s ability to develop independence also hinges on the spinal location of the injury, whether it occurs further down on the spine or higher up toward the neck. Neck spinal injuries may lead to lifelong dependence for personal care, while lower spinal injuries may have better outcomes, with the child potentially regaining some body movement and sensation. Lifelong treatment can be extremely expensive, as the costs of your child’s spine injury begins at birth and may amount to millions of dollars over the course of their life.
Trusted NJ Lawyers when Your Baby’s Spine is Injured due to Medical Malpractice at Birth
While some spinal cord birth injuries are unavoidable, many are caused by medical negligence. Perhaps your doctor should have performed a C-section delivery to avoid injury to your baby’s spine. Or perhaps they should have diagnosed a condition such as spina bifida during prenatal testing and planned the birth accordingly. Still more, negligent execution of the labor and delivery process may result in birth trauma that permanently damages your child’s spine. You may be filled with questions about whether medical professionals provided substandard care before or during the birth of your baby, which ultimately led to these injuries. Our distinguished team of New Jersey birth injury lawyers can help to ensure that your questions are answered. We will conduct an extensive analysis of your case to identify possible malpractice that caused your baby’s spinal cord injury, and if it warrants a lawsuit, we will diligently fight for the financial compensation your child needs to live their best life. Contact us now at (866)-708-8617 or request a free consultation by filling out our convenient form and a member of our team will contact you right away.
- Acute Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) in Children, Stanford Children’s Health
- Spinal Cord Injury, URMC Rochester Golisano Children’s Hospital