The first month of a baby’s life can be the most joyous for parents who are getting to know their little one, but the tragedy of a stroke can completely change how those first few weeks are approached.
While most people think of strokes as something that happens to older people, strokes can happen at any age, and no matter when they occur, they can be devastating.
When it is a newborn, however, a stroke can be particularly problematic, because the medical incident can lead to problems that can last for a lifetime.
According to experts, infants are as likely as the elderly to have a stroke. It happens to about every 1 in 4,000 babies, (Ref. 1), sometimes within the first seven days (this is known as a perinatal stroke, which is a rarer form of stroke that impacts an infant) and sometimes within the first 28 days of life (this is known as a neonatal stroke.)
The National Institutes of Health describes a neonatal stroke as an event that occurs due to disturbances in the infant’s blood supply, which causes oxygen-related problems.
What Causes Neonatal Stroke?
Strikes neonatal and perinatal strokes are the result of oxygen deprivation or the blockage of blood vessels.
There are two different kinds of neonatal stroke – a hemorrhagic stroke is one that is the result of brain trauma that leads to the rupturing of blood vessels or an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood clots caused by brain injury blood arteries of the brain.
Strokes can be caused by a variety of different factors, including:
- Hypoxia. When a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen, it can lead to a stroke. Long-term loss of oxygen most often leads to brain damage.
- Placenta problems. Placenta abruption (when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, cutting the baby off from nutrients including oxygen), placental infection and placental thrombosis, which causes blood clotting in both the placenta and the blood vessels of the uterus.
- This infection of any of the membranes surrounding the baby – the amniotic sac, the amnion or the chorion (two membranes that protect the fetus during development), the umbilical cord, the yolk sac (which initially supplies blood to the embryo during the early stages of gestation) or the allantois (which is responsible for the removal of liquid waste) – can lead to meningitis, which can trigger a stroke.
- Traumatic head injuries. Assisted birthing devices such as forceps or vacuum extractions can cause significant damage to the brain, including damage to the blood vessels and brain tissue. If bleeding occurs, it can trigger blood clots that can cut off blood flow in vessels or it can cause blood to be diverted, both of which can cut of oxygen, leading to a stroke.
- High blood pressure in the mother can cause the placenta to deliver less blood to the baby, limiting access to oxygen.
- Gestational diabetes. Mothers who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to have a larger baby because elevated blood glucose can encourage fetal growth. Larger babies are more likely to have difficult deliveries and are more likely to require assisted birthing devices during delivery. Gestational diabetes may also cause a reduction in blood flow from the mother to the baby.
Health problems associated with the mother, including autoimmune disorders, diabetes, cocaine use or blood coagulation disorders could also trigger a neonatal stroke.
What are the Symptoms of a Neonatal Stroke?
It is important to diagnose – and treat – a neonatal stroke as early as possible to prevent serious conditions including cerebral palsy and permanent brain damage.
Strokes that are not diagnosed may eventually lead to symptoms including speech problems, difficulties with motor skills including balance and seizures that can exacerbate brain damage.
According to estimates, as many a million of the babies that survive a neonatal stroke develop cerebral palsy.
When Is a Neonatal Stroke a Case of Medical Negligence/Birth Injury?
While the causes of neonatal strokes can be difficult to determine, many of them are the result of medical error.
Most significantly, if a medical team failed to recognize the symptoms associated with the lack of oxygen while monitoring a baby during birth and the lack of oxygen led to a stroke, a case for medical negligence would be strong.
Because medical malpractice cases can be difficult, it is important to contact an attorney. Not only should an attorney be tenacious in handling your case, protecting you from insurance companies that are likely to offer low settlements, they should also be sensitive to what you are going through. Lawyers with courtroom experience will not only have the skills needed to show a jury how your child’s birth injury has negatively impacted his or her life, they will also have the resources available to obtain the best medical experts to help prove your case, one of the most vital components of a successful jury trial.