Injuries to the brain can lead to lifelong health problems for adults and children alike. Infants who experience birth trauma involving oxygen or blood deprivation can suffer from a particularly devastating type of brain damage called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
Brain cooling therapy, or therapeutic hypothermia, is a treatment option that has become widely available relatively recently to treat newborns suffering from HIE.
What Is Brain Cooling Therapy?
The process of therapeutic hypothermia involves cooling the newborn to 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit (or 33.5 degrees Celsius). The newborn is kept at this temperature for up to 72 hours. Doctors cool the body by either using a cooling blanket or by placing a cooling cap on the head.
Therapeutic hypothermia is used as a way to slow down the body’s metabolic rate in hopes that it will provide a way for damaged brain cells to recover. It also helps to slow or reduce the spread of brain cell damage.
When Therapeutic Hypothermia Isn’t An Option
Therapeutic hypothermia isn’t an option for babies who are born earlier than 34 weeks (some hospitals won’t even administer it before 36 weeks). Additionally, there are other situations where therapeutic hypothermia isn’t advisable, including:
- Infants born under 3.8 pounds
- Infants born with congenital abnormalities, genetic syndromes, or metabolic disorders
- Infants suffering from septicemia
- Infants with severe intracranial hemorrhage
- Infants with blood clotting disorders
Furthermore, any infant who doesn’t meet the recommended criteria for therapeutic hypothermia, or who is outside of the recommended window to begin the therapy, could experience more severe injuries if they are given this medical treatment anyways.
In this event, the parents of the injured baby may be entitled to medical malpractice benefits.
How Can Hypothermic Brain Cooling Therapy Go Wrong?
The use of brain cooling therapy has been proven an effective treatment for newborns with HIE. However, like many other medical procedures, it doesn’t come without some level of risk. Doctors need to strictly follow the proven steps and procedures to ensure that not only is the therapy effective, but that the treatment itself doesn’t lead to further complications.
- The following examples show how hypothermic brain cooling therapy can be used incorrectly and lead to further injury:
- Eligibility criteria aren’t met (for instance, the baby is preterm or has an APGAR above a 5)
- The body is rewarmed too quickly (this results in what’s known as a reperfusion injury)
- Hypothermic therapy is done too late (the ideal window is as soon as possible, preferably within 6 to 12 hours after birth)
- Failing to transfer the infant to a facility capable of providing active hypothermia therapy
- Failing to keep the infant’s temperature from falling below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (rectal)
- Using improper rectal temperature procedures, resulting in incorrect temperature readings
- Not managing the body’s acidosis
- Failure to use sedation in the event the infant shows stress signs (stress has proven to have a negative impact on hypothermia therapy)
- Allowing sodium and/or chloride levels to fall below normal or not monitoring levels at all
- Failure to keep the infant’s glucose and electrolyte levels in the normal range
- Failing to monitor oxygen saturation levels (infants who are undergoing hypothermic therapy risk suffering from pulmonary hypertension)
When To Talk To A Birth Injury Lawyer
In the event that your child’s disability is the result of a doctor’s mistake or medical negligence, a birth injury lawsuit can help provide for your child’s care and treatment throughout their life. One thing to remember is that parents need to file their lawsuits within a specified amount of time.
The laws surrounding medical malpractice are complex. If your child was injured by physician negligence, it’s important that you contact an experienced birth injury attorney near you right away.