Sadly, in cases of cerebral palsy, this is far too often the case: A moment of thoughtlessness or a single error by a doctor can mean a life of struggles for your child. But what, exactly, is cerebral palsy? How does it occur? Could anything have prevented it? Perhaps most importantly, is there anything you can do now to help your child?
Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder that affects muscle tone and posture. It typically involves a reduced range of motion, muscle stiffness, and difficulty swallowing and visually focusing. In more severe cases, some children are unable to walk, and others have epilepsy, deafness, blindness or intellectual disabilities.
Depending upon the severity, you or your child's doctors may begin noticing signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy in infancy, though sometimes diagnoses are not forthcoming until preschool. While symptoms vary on a case-by-case basis, they may include:
- Delays in milestones that involve motor skills, like sitting up or crawling
- Problems with sucking, swallowing or eating
- Speech delays
- Abnormal muscle tone (too stiff or too floppy)
- Lack of muscle coordination and difficulty with precise motions like picking up a crayon
- Tremors or involuntary movements, or movements that are slow and writhing
- Difficulties walking, such as walking on toes; a scissors-like gait with knees crossing; or a wide, crouched or asymmetrical gait
Cerebral palsy brain abnormalities may contribute to other neurological problems, too, such as cognitive disabilities, oral diseases, urinary incontinence and more.
Causes and contributing factors
Damage that occurs to a developing or immature brain before or during birth is the main reason of cerebral palsy. While there are a variety of causes and contributing factors, some are outside your control, but others may have been preventable with proper medical care. Causes include:
- Genetic mutations
- Maternal infections passed on to the fetus
- Infections in early infancy that cause brain inflammation
- Traumatic fetal or infant head injury
- Fetal stroke
- Lack of oxygen due to difficult labor and delivery
While not all cases of cerebral palsy are due to medical error, there are many instances where a nurse's failure to monitor the fetus for signs of distress, a doctor's failure to provide a timely C-section and thus prevent oxygen deprivation, or an obstetrician's improper use of labor and delivery tools (like forceps) directly resulted in traumatic injury to your baby's brain; sadly, these are only a few possibilities among many.
Obviously, if you have already noticed severe symptoms such as seizures or blindness, you would have sought medical treatment immediately, but even if you just suspect a possible delay in your child's development or notice any difficulties or abnormalities in his or her muscle tone or movement, it can be important to consult a pediatrician as soon as possible. While the symptoms of cerebral palsy will not worsen with time, muscle rigidity and shortening may, and there are treatments that can help your child.
Additionally, if you believe a doctor, nurse or other health care professional's negligence or thoughtless mistake before, during or even immediately after your child's birth caused your child's condition, there are legal resources available in Tennessee to offer guidance and support. Of course, even in a successfully litigated lawsuit, money won't make up for the injuries another's carelessness inflicted on your child, but at least it can help you get your son or daughter the best care possible.