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When Your Child has Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

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Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, or PPHN, is a very serious medical condition that affects an infant’s heart and lungs, ultimately limiting their ability to circulate enough oxygen. Although PPHN only occurs in 2 out of every 1,000 births, the consequences can be deadly. Statistically speaking, there is a roughly 20 percent chance that an infant with PPHN will die even when immediate medical treatment is rendered. For those infants who survive PPHN, it is unfortunate but true that many suffer permanent damage to their lungs. Living through persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn means your child may be forced to deal with health complications for the rest of their life. The first step toward recovery, however, is ensuring that a newborn with this condition receives immediate and appropriate medical treatment.

If a doctor’s negligence prevents this from happening, whether it be from inadequate monitoring after delivery, failure to conduct a thorough examination and reach the PPHN diagnosis in a timely manner, or inadequately treating this life-threatening condition in your child, the next step you should take is to speak with an dedicated birth injury and medical malpractice attorney with experience handling PPHN lawsuits in New Jersey. To discuss your baby’s newborn malpractice case with a lawyer who can advise and assist you further, contact us at 866-708-8617. Our team is available 24/7 to provide you with a free consultation.

What to Know about Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

While a child is in the womb, oxygen delivery occurs from the mother’s placenta, via the umbilical cord. During this time, the child’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Immediately after the child is born, their lungs become responsible for delivering oxygen, which must then be circulated throughout the body. Infants need to pump a healthy amount of oxygen through their bloodstream in order to survive and remain in good health. This requires a post-birth cardiopulmonary transition, during which the blood vessels open and allow blood to travel to the lungs where oxygen exchange occurs. The transition from receiving oxygen from the mother’s placenta, to pumping a baby’s own oxygen through the circulatory system, must occur. If it does not, blood is diverted from the lungs as opposed to continuously reaching the lungs, causing inadequate amounts of oxygen in the blood. PPHN restricts this circulation and prevents blood from reaching the child’s lungs. Without complete oxygen saturation in the lungs, the blood does not contain the necessary supply to be delivered to other organs. The end result is that the brain and the rest of the newborn’s body are denied a necessary supply of oxygen, inhibiting many of the critical functions required to sustain life.

Doctors and nurses must act quickly to treat a newborn with PPHN, which is why it is extremely important that medical staff is properly trained to recognize the symptoms as soon as they become apparent in the baby. For example, an infant suffering from PPHN may need to be intubated, placed on a machine-assisted breathing device, or administered special medications to reduce fluid in the lungs and allow the baby to breathe properly. If PPHN is left untreated, serious complications may arise that leave the newborn with permanent physical damage or, in the worst cases, result in the baby’s death.

PPHN Causes & Risk Factors

Persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns can be caused by existing conditions prior to childbirth, such as disease, congenital abnormalities, or maternal infection. It may also occur due to the circumstances of a difficult labor. There is no singular cause, but many risk factors that place infants at greater risk for PPHN, including:

  • Inadequate oxygen before or during birth (birth asphyxia)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Meconium aspiration: the baby might inhale meconium if the first bowel movement occurs in the womb, and the meconium can clog the baby’s lungs.
  • Infection
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Umbilical cord becoming wrapped around the baby’s neck in the womb
  • Congenital heart or lung defects: if the baby has a heart valve issue or some other kind of genetic defect with the heart or lungs, PPHN is more likely.

While all babies are potentially at risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension in the hours that follow birth, some newborns are at greater risk than others. Doctors must be capable of identifying a baby who is at greater-than-normal risk for PPHN so that steps can be taken to ensure that the baby receives adequate oxygen. 

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms in Newborns

Since PPHN requires immediate treatment, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff involved in the delivery of the child must be prepared to identify the obvious symptoms of persistent pulmonary hypertension in infants. These symptoms may include the following:

  • Rapid heart rate: Increased blood pressure can cause the baby to suffer from heart palpitations. This may become apparent as the baby shows signs of chest pain or discomfort.
  • Rapid breathing: The baby may inhale and exhale at a faster-than-usual rate as they struggle to breathe.
  • Skin that turns blue or purple: The baby’s lips are especially likely to turn bluish in color, while the rest of the baby’s skin could become pale or purple due to cyanosis.
  • Drowsiness: The baby may become drowsy or tired due to a sudden loss of energy caused by their struggle to breathe.
  • Grunting or Complete Quiet: The baby may grunt or moan as they try to exhale. Alternatively, the baby may go completely quiet and stop crying because they simply cannot breathe.
  • Cold extremities: The baby’s hands and feet may become cold when deprived of proper oxygen circulation throughout the body.
  • Swollen extremities: The baby’s hands and feet can suffer from severe swelling due to lack of circulation.
  • Loss of consciousness: A lack of oxygen can cause the baby to lose consciousness.

Babies with PPHN Need Immediate Treatment

When persistent pulmonary hypertension occurs in newborns, doctors need to act quickly to boost the infant’s oxygen levels in the bloodstream and ensure that oxygen can travel through the body and to the lungs. It may be necessary for doctors to place the child on a special type of ventilator that provides oxygen bursts, to deliver oxygen via a mask or small tube inserted into the nostrils, or to use a specialized machine for oxygen delivery called a CPAP. Over time, the baby might also need to receive antibiotics to stave off infection and other medications to modulate blood pressure and reduce movement for a limited period of time to reduce the demand for oxygen.

Complications from PPHN

In essence, when the flow of blood to the lungs is restricted shortly after birth, a newborn may not adequately oxygenate the blood and respiratory failure can result. PPHN can also weaken the child’s pulse, dangerously enlarge the child’s liver, and cause low blood pressure, seizures, hearing loss, speech impediments, kidney failure, heart failure, and permanent brain damage.

How Negligence with Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension can Lead to Infant Harm

Since most cases of PPHN happen shortly after the child is born, medical personnel must be able to diagnose the condition and then take action to treat it. For this reason, hospitals must be equipped with the diagnostic devices needed to identify and diagnose PPHN, including ultrasounds and x-rays. Additionally, delayed action or choosing the wrong treatment for an infant’s persistent pulmonary hypertension  may lead to irreparable harm.  In many cases, PPHN happens due to negligence during childbirth, whether it be the doctor, nurse, hospital staff, or a combination of medical professionals whose insufficient care during labor and delivery cause an infant unnecessary complications. This can happen in numerous ways during the prenatal stages as well, such as a doctor’s failure to recognize signs of infection in the mother or administering the incorrect medication to treat maternal or fetal conditions. 

If doctors, nurses, or other medical staff either fail to diagnose or treat PPHN in the child, or raise the risk for PPHN through negligence during delivery, these parties may be liable in a birth injury and medical malpractice lawsuit.

New Jersey Attorneys for those Harmed by Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of Newborn (PPHN) Malpractice & Birth Injuries Statewide

Victims of birth injuries and medical negligence in New Jersey have rights, including children who experience complications and permanent injuries due to malpractice with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. A knowledgeable attorney can examine the facts of your case and get to the bottom of exactly what might have caused your child’s injuries and health complications. Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be possible for you to receive compensation for your child’s injuries and future care. While financial compensation will never truly make up for the physical pain suffered by the child and the heartache felt by parents and loved ones, it can prove very helpful when covering the costs of your child’s previous and future medical care and treatment.

Having a highly qualified birth injury and medical malpractice lawyer on your side can put you in a much stronger position when the time comes to negotiate with the other side or litigate the case in court. Ultimately, the relief that comes from putting your child’s case in the hands of a thoroughly prepared legal team can have incalculable value. For a free consultation regarding your child’s potential claim for PPHN malpractice, contact 866-708-8617 or send us a message now.


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