Giroux Trial Attorneys, P.C.
Medical Issues

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Explained

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is the name for brain damage that occurs when a baby’s developing brain is deprived of oxygen or blood.

  • Hypoxic means lack of or insufficient oxygen.
  • Ischemic means lack of or insufficient blood flow.
  • Encephalopathy is defined as disease or damage to the brain.

HIE typically occurs either in utero, during childbirth or immediately after childbirth. A baby can be born with HIE because of underlying issues during the pregnancy that are not addressed or cannot be corrected, because of trauma during the birth process and even after being born.

Low-weight (preterm) babies are at increased risk for HIE. But HIE can occur with any child, including those who are developing normally during the pregnancy, but who are deprived of oxygen or blood during the delivery or shortly thereafter.

When a newborn brain does not get sufficient oxygen or blood, a serious medical emergency has occurred and long-term effects may result. HIE can be the result of a birth defect or abnormality. In such cases, there is usually no medical malpractice or negligence involved. However, HIE can also be the result of mistakes made by medical professionals shortly before, during and after childbirth.

It is important to obtain expert medical advice if your child has been diagnosed with HIE. HIE’s long- and short-term effects depend on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen and blood and what caused the deprivation.

Just as important — contact an attorney who is an expert in HIE and can help you seek compensation for any medical negligence that may have caused HIE and to help with the likely financial implications for your family because of the HIE diagnosis.

Causes of HIE

Some pregnancies are already at higher risk for babies to have brain development issues. Medical professionals need to be extra vigilant in following the development of these mothers and babies, ensuring that their little brains are developing appropriately. Pregnancies that need extra medical attention that are at high risk for HIE include:

  • Mothers who have cardiac disease, advanced diabetes with circulatory issues and vascular disease in general
  • Mothers who have experienced issues with blood supply to the placenta or have other placental issues including placenta previa
  • Mothers who are addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • Mothers who are at risk for preeclampsia, a condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
  • Babies who show signs of anemia during the pregnancy
  • Babies who exhibit evidence of lung problems and malformations

Once childbirth is underway, other risk factors can contribute to HIE. These include:

  • Prolonged labor (the leading cause of HIE) including baby’s prolonged time in the birth canal
  • Breech birth or unusual position of the baby during birth, which can lead to prolonged labor
  • Umbilical cord asphyxia (being strangled by the umbilical cord for a short or long time)
  • Steep drop or dramatic spike in the mother’s blood pressure during delivery
  • Rupture of the placenta or injury or damage to the uterus

 In cases where HIE was caused by medical negligence it is essential to contact an expert attorney for counsel as soon as possible.

In all of the above cases, medical staff often fails to diagnosis the crisis, misdiagnosing the crisis or delaying the treatment, contributing to the birth trauma and the severity of the HIE.

HIE that is a result of trauma during the actual childbirth process is often preventable and may be a case of medical malpractice. Negligent medical staff often cause these serious, life-altering injuries.

In addition, hospital personnel sometimes make mistakes during the critical hours after childbirth, not realizing that a baby is suffering and not ensuring that they are taking in adequate blood and oxygen for continued, safe brain development.

In the hugely significant hours following childbirth, infants can still be at risk for HIE. The leading causes of HIE after the birth has occurred include:

  • Low birthweight and preterm babies with underdeveloped structures and systems
  • Malformations or diseases of the baby’s heart or lungs
  • Infections
  • Extremely low blood pressure in the infant
  • Brain or skull trauma or brain malformations

If your child was born with HIE, it is important to contact Giroux Trial Attorneys right away. We will evaluate your case to determine if mistakes were made by medical staff, causing or contributing to the HIE.

What are Early Symptoms of HIE?

Quite often, a baby born with HIE will be receiving intensive care and the symptoms will be present immediately. These are the warning signs that HIE has occurred:

  • Baby’s skin color indicates poor circulation (blue or pale)
  • Meconium (the first “poop”) has occurred prior to delivery and is present in the amniotic fluid
  • The baby’s breathing is poor, insufficient, labored or irregular
  • The baby’s muscle tone is not good and its reflexes are below normal

Medical staff will confirm an HIE diagnosis after ordering scans like an MRI, CT scan and ultrasounds in addition to EKG’s and EEG’s.

What are Long Term Effects of HIE?

In the hospital, significant intervention will often be needed to manage and try to reverse the effects of the HIE. Long stays in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit may be necessary during which the baby’s temperature and breathing will be monitored and assisted with ventilators and even hyperbaric chambers. The baby’s heart functioning and blood pressure will also need to be stabilized through the use of mechanical devices and prescription drug therapy. Only when the child is stable will he or she be allowed to return home with you.

Once you return home with an HIE child, you may incur significant expenses in order to manage the effects of the HIE. Until the child reaches three or four years of age, it may be impossible to predict what the long-term consequences may be.

The laws in Michigan take into account that there are some conditions for which the long-term effects and costs are not fully definable until a child is older. However, that does not mean that a person can wait until the child is older to contact an attorney. Much of the investigation and documentation may need to take place during the beginning of the child’s life.

Depending on the severity of the HIE, your baby may face developmental delays and roadblocks including:

  • May be more fragile than other children
  • May develop more slowly than other children
  • Learning or cognitive difficulties
  • Delays in motor development; both fine motor and gross motor
  • Routines may have to be adapted
  • Treatment and equipment to account for issues with breathing, swallowing and eating
  • Seizure disorders
  • Neurological functioning
  • Heart and lung issues
  • Shortened life span in the most severe of cases

How Will My Baby’s HIE Affect My Family?

You can expect to incur significant expenses in order to ensure the safety of your child. You may need to provide specialized medical treatment, including physical and speech therapy, and/or provide specialized childcare. Childcare may be something that is paid for, or provided by a parent, which could mean that a parent may no longer be able to earn a wage. Your child may require adaptive equipment and special dietary accommodations. Further down the road, your child may need continued educational intervention, including psychological and neurological evaluation and further therapies as needed.

Not all infants suffering from HIE are victims of medical malpractice. However, in cases where HIE was clearly caused by poor medical decisions and sub-standard treatment, Giroux Trial Attorneys want to make sure that your extraordinary increased costs of care are covered.

When you call Giroux Trial Attorneys, we evaluate your case fully to determine if medical malpractice is present. We investigate and document all that is necessary to build a case on your child’s behalf. Our expertise will help you be able to focus on doing what is best for your child and your family.

Children with HIE have many challenges ahead.

Take Action

Calling Giroux Trial Attorneys should be the first thing on your to-do list when your baby suffers a birth trauma. In cases of medical malpractice, we want to help you overcome these challenges by making financial resources available to you. We understand your immediate needs. We also want to ensure that insurance companies and medical professionals meet your family’s and your child’s future needs. We believe that you are owed compensation and that you deserve the help you need to help your child. We are honored to do our part to help your child and your family and to ensure that anybody who negligently caused this trauma is held responsible.

There is no cost to contacting us. In addition, delaying the call may actually impact our ability to prepare a lawsuit on your behalf.

Nobody can control the past, but your child’s future is in your hands. At Giroux Trial Attorneys, we are real trial attorneys practicing real law.  Simply put – we can help.

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