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Was My Child’s Birth Defect Caused by Medical Malpractice?

A hospital nurse places a newborn infant in its crib.

Each year, approximately 3% of newborns in the U.S. suffer birth defects. While this number might seem moderately low at first glance, it’s important to realize that birth defects are the #1 cause of infant death, accounting for 20% of fatalities.

The risk of birth-related injuries is one of many concerns that expectant mothers can have during pregnancy. From miscarriage to labor pains, women have a lot to think about when it comes to giving birth. A qualified and capable medical team is a must, as women often depend on the assistance of these medical professionals before, during, and after delivery.

In a perfect world, prenatal care practitioners would never err in their work. But like the rest of us, doctors are only human. An act of medical negligence can inflict unnecessary harm to a mother or baby, resulting in lethal or even fatal consequences. From maternal injuries to birth defects, it’s important to know the risks and warning signs of injury caused by medical malpractice.

Why Do Birth Defects Occur?

There are a number of reasons a newborn may experience birth defects. The most common is genetics, as parents can pass down mutated genes or abnormal chromosomes.

Other causes include infection, radiation, or drug exposure. The unfortunate reality is that birth defects aren’t always explainable. In many cases, there is no known reason for why a birth defect occurs. However, there are circumstances in which medical malpractice is identified as the preventable cause.

Consider these 3 common birth defects that can be caused by inadequate care, misdiagnosis, or another form of medical malpractice before and after pregnancy.

#1: Spina Bifida

Spina bifida or “split spine” occurs when part of the fetus’s spine doesn’t develop properly in the womb, preventing it from closing. This leaves some parts of the child’s backbone exposed, and is sometimes marked with a tuft of hair, birthmark, or protruding tissue. This condition is the most common neural tube defect (NTD). Spina bifida typically occurs within the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Prevention & Diagnosis:

Unfortunately, there is not a single known cause for spina bifida. Currently, doctors believe potential causes include a mix of genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors. While affected children usually survive into adulthood, their quality of life is limited. They also face a shorter life expectancy.

Children are at higher risk of developing this defect if their mother already has a child with this condition, or if she is affected by spina bifida herself. However, it can be detected before birth. There are 3 major tests a doctor can and should use to screen for this particular neural tube defect:

  1. AFP (alpha-fetoprotein) screening
  2. Ultrasound
  3. Amniotic fluid test (amniocentesis)

There are instances in which a medical professional fails to screen for this birth defect, which can lead to a misdiagnosis claim.

#2: Anencephaly

Like spina bifida, anencephaly is a neural tube disorder (NTD). While spina bifida affects a child’s backbone, anencephaly causes the baby to be born without parts of its brain. It occurs when the upper part of the neural tube does not close properly over a fetus’s skull in the womb.

An exact cause is unknown, although doctors suspect anencephaly is caused by a combination of genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors. Mothers are encouraged to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, as this may help reduce the risk of NTDs in pregnancy.

Prevention & Diagnosis:

Sadly, anencephaly is fatal. Most children with this birth defect will be stillborn or die shortly after birth.

Like spina bifida, anencephaly canand should be diagnosed early in the pregnancy. If your doctor did not conduct the proper screenings or make you aware of this diagnosis before delivery, you may be entitled to compensation for medical negligence.

#3. Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs)

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) can range from mild to severe. As the most common birth defect, a CHD entails a problem with a child’s heart structure or function. CHDs affect 1 in 100 infants in the U.S. Of those, 25% will be diagnosed with a critical CHD that requires surgeries during the child’s first year.

There is an extensive list of CHDs, but the more common types include:

  • Bicuspid aortic valve (BAV). The affected valve supplies blood to the aorta. Children impacted by this CHD have an aortic valve with one less leaflet, impacting blood flow to the child’s heart.
  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD). This occurs when the child’s heart contains a hole in the lower septum that divides the left and right sides.
  • Atrial septal defects (ASD). Similarly to a VSD, an atrial septal defect impacts the upper septum that divides the left and right sides of a child’s heart.

Prevention & Diagnosis:

Because CHDs vary in nature and severity, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact cause. However, recent medical advances have been made to help affected children live longer and healthier lives.

Currently, children diagnosed with a non-critical CHD typically live to 18 years of age. Approximately 97% of children diagnosed with a critical CHD survive to 1 year of age. Mothers can take heart, however, in knowing that significant strides are being made to help infants born with congenital heart defects.

It’s important to understand that the symptoms and overall outlook of CHDs vary with each child’s unique situation. Relevant factors include the severity of the defect, how quickly it was diagnosed, and how it is treated. Unfortunately, this leaves room for misdiagnosis, overlooked signs, or botched treatment plans.

Was My Child’s Birth Defect Caused by Medical Malpractice?

As you can tell, birth defects fall on a wide range of factors that vary in severity, outlook, and treatment. Navigating the complexities of medical malpractice, especially during an emotional fight to protect your child, can be overwhelming for many parents.

It’s always wise to seek reliable counsel from a qualified medical malpractice attorney. They can examine your case to best determine whether an act of medical negligence is responsible for your child’s suffering, and guide your next steps if you proceed to file a claim.

With over 25 years of experience under his belt, our seasoned attorney provides caring and personalized legal guidance while aggressively representing his clients in the courtroom. When it comes to the life and wellbeing of your child, don’t settle for anything less than superior representation from the Law Offices of Charles R. Gueli.

If you suffered due to medical negligence or misdiagnosis during your pregnancy, it’s crucial to act now. Call our firm at (516) 628-6402 to book a free consultation today.

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