Archive for the ‘Birth Injuries’ Category

Dogs a huge help for special needs kids

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Dogs and kids just seem to go together. Whether it’s running around the yard and roughhousing or just sitting quietly watching TV together on the sofa, dogs seem to gravitate toward kids. For some special needs kids, however, dogs are more than just a friend and play buddy; they are actually a daily caregiver.

The idea of service dogs for disabled children is a little-known yet burgeoning niche in the world of special needs. Everyone knows about service dogs for the blind. I have to admit that until recently, I had never even considered service dogs for other disabilities, let alone children. Then a friend of mine whose son is autistic mentioned that she was thinking about getting an autism service dog for her son. I was puzzled. Her son suffers from sensory processing disorder so I didn’t understand what a dog would be able to do for him. Kids with autism usually don’t have physical handicaps. But as I talked to her and started reading up on the topic, I found that well-trained dogs can be a huge help to autistic kids, as well as kids with other disabilities.

For autistic children, service dogs don’t offer specific physical assistance, but are highly trained in behavior disruption, which is a major component of autism. As any parent of an autistic child can tell you, behavior disruption is common. It can be different triggers for different children, but the common denominator is that something (usually something benign to most of us) sets off what we laypeople would call an emotional or physical meltdown. This can be a mild tantrum or can be a full-blown one complete with collapsing on the floor and shrieking. Trying to calm an autistic child in the throes of such a meltdown can be a major challenge. It turns out that a dog trained to recognize such behavior and engage the child is a highly calming influence on the child. The dog essentially soothes the child and comforts him or her, shortening the duration and severity of the meltdown, and also cutting down on the number of meltdowns. Rather than getting overly focused on whatever it is that is bothering him or her, the child seems to focus on the ever-present dog and can bypass what otherwise might trigger a reaction.

The dog also gives other support that is less tangible but equally important – giving the child something to focus on if distracted, providing companionship, and assisting with developing friendships with other children. Special needs children are sadly often excluded by so-called normal children which can add a tremendous feeling of isolation for such children. Having a service dog helps break the ice with new kids and provides a constant companion when other children are not around.

Physically, a service dog also helps protect the child and keep him or her safe. One major concern with autistic children is that they are easily distracted and may not think as logically as other children.  They are more prone to wandering off in public because they get distracted by something and follow it, even if it takes them into traffic or near a dangerous body of water.  They may decide to leave the house alone for no apparent reason, even in the middle of the night. Service dogs are trained to restrain the child and act as a second pair of eyes on the child, which is a huge asset to the parents.

Legal fight over service dogs in school

A great piece of news recently came out of Oregon involving an autistic boy named Scooter Givens and his service dog, Madison. For years, Scooter’s parents fought their son’s school for the right to have the dog attend school with him under the ADA (American with Disabilities Act). The school fought back. Finally, the school backed down and agreed to at least try to allow Scooter to bring Madison to school with him. They are starting with part-time hours and working up to full days. If Madison can keep Scooter from having meltdowns, it should be a win-win for both the school and the family.

Cost and Availability

Service dogs are not cheap, nor are they readily available. A well-trained dog can cost  upwards of $20,000, depending on the level of training that is required (which is why my friend is not heading out this weekend to buy one). While this may seem excessive, the cost is actually justified when you realize that it can take six months or more of intense work  to properly train a service dog. That is months of food, shelter and paying a trainer to spend  hundreds of hours training each dog, as well as the additional training time when the dog is matched with the family. It is a labor-intensive process. However, there are ways to meet the cost. Many training facilities seek outside funding to help defray the costs of training, which lowers the ultimate cost to the family. Some families will actually do fundraising themselves to try to pay their portion of the cost. Even with this approach, however, the sad fact is that service dogs are unfortunately out of reach for a large number of people, especially when you consider the other high costs of raising a special needs child.

Other disabilities:

In addition to autism, service dogs are trained to care for people with other disabilities – deafness, mobility issues, and one that I found absolutely fascinating – seizure disorder. Dogs are trained to assist people who suffer seizures by getting the telephone and medicines, and keeping the person physically safe during a seizure. Some dogs can even go so far as to anticipate an oncoming seizure and alert the person to lay down in a safe position before the seizure starts. How the dog knows this is anyone’s guess. So far, science has been unable to explain it. Some researchers theorize that during the earliest phase of a seizure, the person’s electrical brain activity subtly changes a person’s odor which the dog detects. Dogs have a sense of smell that is 300 times stronger than what we have. While this may be the explanation, no one knows for sure so it remains a fascinating mystery.

If you are interested in a special needs dog, there are a number of organizations out there for you to consider. Here are just a few:

4 Paws for Ability:  http://www.4pawsforability.org/

North Star Foundation:  http://www.northstardogs.com/autism.shtml

Dogs for the Deaf:   http://www.dogsforthedeaf.org/index.php

Have any of our readers had any experience with special needs dogs?  I would love to hear your stories.

 

Photo from staplenews.com

 

 

Laughing Gas Making Its Way Back Into The Labor And Deliver Department

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

According to a recent article published by MSNBC, laughing gas or nitrous oxide is making its way back into labor and delivery units in American hospitals. Although laughing gas has long been used as a pain relief in various countries, including Canada and the U.K., it has lost its popularity in the U.S. Well, maybe not for much longer.

It appears that a number of hospitals are now considering making laughing gas available as a pain relief measure for women in labor. A hospital in San Francisco and another in Seattle have been using laughing gas in their labor and delivery units for a while. Hospitals like Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center plan to offer laughing gas to laboring mothers in the immediate future. Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s plan is currently being reviewed by the federal government, and arrangements are presently being made for the procurement of delivery equipment for laughing gas. Vanderbilt University Medical Center may begin offering laughing gas as well later this year.

History

Laughing gas is not a new pain relief method. Its use had become very common in hospitals when Joseph Thomas Clover invented the gas-ether inhaler in 1876. Particularly, its use in the labor and delivery setting had been very common before the introduction of epidural and spinal anesthesia. Because laughing gas is unable to eliminate pain to the same degree as epidural or spinal anesthesia, it simply could not compete with the more sophisticated pain relief alternatives, which entered the marker in the 30s and 40s.

What is laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or sweet air, is a chemical compound with the formula N2O. It is an oxide of nitrogen. At room temperature, it is a colorless non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as “laughing gas” due to the euphoric effects of inhaling it, a property that has led to its recreational use as a dissociative anesthetic.

Laughing gas as an important pain relief alternative

Although laughing gas can only take the edge off pain, it just might be an important alternative to other more conventional pain relief methods. The patient does not have to rely on an anesthesiologist to administer the gas. The patient can herself choose how much gas to administer at any time. The effects of the gas are not long-lasting. Therefore, the patient does not have to recover in a post anesthesia care unit. Importantly, there is no associated loss of sensation and motor function during the delivery process. As such, the gas does not interfere with the woman’s ability to breath and push during labor. Laughing gas is also not known to have any adverse effects on the baby in utero.

The administration of laughing gas does not require any invasive medical procedures. By contrast, consider epidural anesthesia: An epidural requires that an epidural catheter be threaded into the epidural space, which is only about 2 mm wide. Any mistake and the consequences can be catastrophic. Epidurals have been known to cause spinal cord injury secondary t0 toxicity, spinal cord infarcts, severe hypotension, paraplegia, epidural bleeding, and even death. None of these complications are associated with the use of laughing gas.

: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TO4sOgiIeU]

According to Suzanne Serat, a nurse midwife at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center:

We have a number of people who don’t want to feel the pain of labor, and nitrous oxide would not be a good option for them. They really need an epidural, and that’s perfect for them. […] Then we have a number of people who are going to wait and see what happens, and when they’re in labor, decide they’d like something and then the only option for them is an epidural but they don’t need something that strong. So they would choose to use something in the middle, but we just don’t have anything in the middle.

Nitrous oxide may just prove to be that middle option for many women who prefer to give birth without the use of powerful and potentially dangerous analgesic/anesthetic agents. If you are an expectant mother, ask your obstetrician if nitrous oxide is a pain relief option that may be available to you during labor.

Image from cartoonstock.com

For more information about epidural anesthesia and epidural complications, you may want to read these posts too:

Having an epidural when you deliver your baby? 3 Questions to ask the doctor!

5 Questions to Ask Your Obstetrician Before You Go to the Hospital

Epidural Analgesia – What Should an Expectant Mother Consider? What are the risks?

Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Let’s start here:  The Federal Government Shutdown has been avoided.  Federal workers and government contractors that depend on a functioning federal government can breathe a deep sigh of relief.  As the hysteria subsides and we return to business as usual, we should ask ourselves – “Are we really returning to business as usual?”  When it comes to your health and more specifically, the healthcare that you and your baby receive, the answer very well may be a resounding “NO.”

How It All Happened

I suppose I should set the stage for you, in case you missed the hand-wringing and other hysterics.  The two houses of Congress are divided.  As is par for the course, Democrats profess that one course of action is correct and Republicans declare that another course is more appropriate.  A budget needs to be in place for the government to function, yet the two political parties couldn’t come to an agreement.  A shutdown of the federal government was promised if a compromise was not reached.  The American public held its breath—or protested.  At the 11th hour, cuts were made, backroom deals were struck, and Washington spoke:  there will be $38 billion dollars trimmed from the federal budget.  On a positive note, federal agencies will remain operational until the end of September. Reason to cheer? Maybe. Before we break out the party hats and noise makers, let’s take a look at how healthcare fared.  The following areas are among those cut:

-         Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC):  $504 million

-         Community Health Centers:  $600 million

-         Substantance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration:  $45 million

-         Infectious Disease prevention:  $277 million

Total:  $1.426 Billion.  Yes, billion, with a “B”!

WIC, Babies, Community Health & Death

Women, Infants and Children, otherwise known as WIC, is a program that provides food for poor women and children up to the age of five.  WIC’s mission statement is “to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5, who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” WIC gives targeted nutritional supplementation to help prevent birth defects and developmental problems caused by malnutrition.  It also provides information on healthy foods and referrals for medical care, according to the program’s website.

The WIC program gave out about $7 billion in food grants to states in 2010. There were nearly 8.9 million households receiving WIC benefits at the end of 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture. Locally, on an annual basis, Maryland WIC serves over 130,000 women, infants and children each month.  More than 151,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and toddlers benefit from the program in Virginia.  Despite the number of women, infants and children assisted by the program, the recent budget compromise promises to slash $504 million in funding. The startling aspect is the number of women and children that are eligible but for one reason or another are not enrolled in the program. There is an estimated 43 percent of women and children, who are eligible for benefits but aren’t receiving them.  The cuts to funding will effectively foreclose their opportunity to receive benefits. At risk and in need, they will have to look elsewhere.  Sadly, many will not.

In addition to the significant cuts to WIC’s budget, the budget for community health centers would drop by about $600 million, affecting access to basic health services for approximately 5 million low-income Americans, according to the National Association for Community Health Centers. By 2015, according to NACHC, the reduction could undermine health centers’ capacity to provide services to 40 million people.

But what does it mean?

It is 2011.  My computer, cell phone and other gadgets all confirm that we are soundly within the confines of the 21st century. While we can certainly live with the fact that automobiles do not take flight a la The Jetsons, what is troubling is that we are continuing to battle fetal death in the United States.  Around 2.6 million babies are born with no signs of life after 28 weeks’ gestation – which defines a stillbirth. Undoubtedly, most of these stillbirths take place in developing countries.  Nonetheless, in the world’s wealthiest nations around 1 in every 300 babies are stillborn.  In 2005, data from the National Vital Statistics Report showed a US national average stillbirth rate of 6.2 per 1000 births. In fact, of the world’s most advanced economies, the United States has the highest infant mortality rate.  In Maryland, a preliminary report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) shows that Maryland’s infant mortality rate is 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The major causes of stillbirths—complications during labor, maternal infections, hypertension, diabetes, and fetal growth restriction—aren’t too different from the major causes of maternal or neonatal deaths. Among the most fundamental ways to prevent stillbirths and fetal death is to improve basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care. Providing pregnant women folic acid supplements, preventing disease, and improved detection and management of infection during pregnancy are simple ways to ensure babies are born healthy.

According to WIC, numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; have fewer low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C. That being said, the budget negotiations resulted in drastic cuts to a program effective at reducing harm to the nation’s most vulnerable?  Oh, boy.

With the exception of a short stint as a student legislator in high school and college, I do not have meaningful experience in the political arena.  I will not pretend to have significant insight into what it takes to balance a federal budget.  As a lay person, what I can do is look at the statistics and read the reports.  The numbers and reports tell me that in the 21st century America, a scary number of its children are being harmed by the preventable.  On top of that, the funding—the lifeblood—that sustains the programs aimed at reducing the problem just took a devastating blow. Will the programs designed to help our most vulnerable continue to operate? We can only hope.   At least, for the sake of the children. So please excuse me if I don’t put on my party hat and celebrate the $38 billion in budget cuts. I haven’t found a cause for celebration just yet.

Agree or disagree? That’s why the comment section is below. Let me know if you have your party shoes on.

 

Birth Defect Updates: Warnings about opioid use before and during pregnancy

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Photo credit: Getty Images

Recently, I wrote about studies concerning the increased risk of birth defects caused by smoking.  A recent press release from the CDC draws attention to a newly discovered link between the use of certainly prescription opioid pain relievers by a woman shortly before conception or in the first trimester of pregnancy to an increase in birth defects.  Similar to the evidence about smoke exposure, the research identifies the period before conception and during early pregnancy as critical.  I think that these findings raise questions about the use of these drugs by woman of child-bearing age as the critical time period may be one when a woman is not aware that she is pregnant or going to become pregnant.

Use of these opioid pain relievers, such as codeine and oxycodone, “was linked to several types of congenital heart defects as well as spina bifida, hydrocephaly, congenital glaucoma and gastroschisis.”  According to the press release, the study, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “found that women who took prescription opioid medications just before or during early pregnancy had about two times the risk for having a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (one of the most critical heart defects) as women who were not treated with these opioid medications.”   Overall the CDC statement suggests that the risk of these defects is not that large for any individual woman given the rarity of these conditions, but that it is important information nonetheless since the defects are very significant.

Cerebral Palsy rates dropping in U.S.

In happier news, overall rates of cerebral palsy are dropping in the United States.  The cause of the decline is linked to improved care during pregnancy and at birth.  According to Medical News Today, a new “…article published in The Journal of Pediatrics indicates that the rates of cerebral palsy have declined dramatically in the past 15 years.” This is exciting news not just because it means that many fewer children are born with a devastating injury but also because it is an indicator of a general improvement in the care provided to mothers and babies before, during and immediately following birth.

 

 

Smoking and Secondhand Smoke Increase Risk for Birth Defects and Stillbirth – Even before pregancy

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Impact Lab

Recently, I came across several news articles regarding risks that can lead to birth defects.  While it has long been known that smoking during pregnancy is not healthy for the mom or her developing baby, a new study is showing that a mom who smokes during pregnancy creates a huge risk of heart defects in her baby.  A Reuters article explains that the potential for harm caused by smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy, a time when many women may not even realize they are pregnant, is significant:

Specifically, women who smoked early in pregnancy were 30 percent more likely to give birth to babies with obstructions in the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs, and nearly 40 percent more likely to have babies with openings in the upper chambers of their hearts.

While smoking later in pregnancy can also cause birth defects, it is the critical period in early pregnancy when organ development occurs that causes the risk to be so significant at that time.

The Reuters article goes on to explain that the new study, in the journal Pediatrics, does not explain precisely why smoking so dramatically increases the risk of heart defects. However, given the risk, women not smoking before or during early pregnancy could decrease the number of children born with these defects.

A news release from the CDC adds that this study and other research suggest that if women quit smoking before or very early in pregnancy, they could avoid as many as 100 cases of the obstruction type of heart defect and 700 cases of abnormal openings in the upper heart chambers each year in the United States.

This is yet another great reason for woman to quit smoking as soon as possible and certainly before trying to get pregnant.

Secondhand Smoke Risks to Your Baby

We cannot let spouses, partners or other people in the mothers’ lives off the hook when it comes to smoking cessation.  A blog article on The Chart from CNN discusses a new study, also from the journal Pediatrics, which gives a convincing argument why woman must avoid secondhand smoke during and even before pregnancy.  The “[r]esearchers found exposure to secondhand smoke increased a non-smoking pregnant woman’s [chances] of having a stillborn by 23 percent, and increased the risk of delivering a baby with birth defects by 13 percent.”  The article went on to explain that the risk of having a stillborn or delivering a baby with birth defects is almost as large for a woman who does not smoke but is exposed to secondhand smoke as for a woman who smoked herself.  The risks of having a stillborn are increased 20-34% when the mother herself is the smoker and the risks of birth defects are increased by 10-34%.

Aren’t these compelling reasons to continue to work hard as a society on prevention and smoking cessation for the young?  It is too late to wait until child-bearing age when women may already be causing unnecessary harm to their unborn children before they know they are pregnant or by sharing their lives with individuals, who are not able to quit smoking fast enough to prevent harm before conception or during early pregnancy.

IEP’s: Stand Up for Your Child’s Rights – Be Their Best Advocate

Monday, March 14th, 2011

IEP File Folder from KnowledgePoints.com

Recently I wrote a blog about the general difficulties facing parents who are raising a disabled child. This week I want to address one of those specific guidelines – ensuring a quality and appropriate education for your child. For many children with disabilities, they cannot meet the traditional school criteria because of either mental, physical or other special needs. For such children, an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a crucial step. What is an IEP? As the name implies, it is a written education plan that is specifically tailored to your individual child rather than a general plan used for all children. Keep in mind that an IEP is not something that your disabled child may be entitled to. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that IEP’s be developed for all students with disabilities.

Who creates an IEP? For every child, there is an IEP team which generally consists of the following people – the parents, the child’s teacher, the child’s special education provider, a public agency representative and perhaps other providers such as physical therapists. Depending on the age of the child and the specific disability, the child may also be part of the team. I want to emphasize that while the IEP team is filled with so-called experts in education and disability, the most important person on the team is the parent. There are two key points to keep in mind:  1) you, as the parent, are the best advocate for your child; and 2) never be afraid to stand up to the experts.

On the first point, I encourage you to read as much as possible and become informed on the subject, e.g., what new laws are coming out, what new technologies may be available. Only that way can you truly become an advocate for your child. There are a number of excellent sites on the Internet that give a wealth of information (see links below).

Parents of disabled children tell me that they have learned the hard way that there is only one person who truly cares what happens to their child – and that is the parent (or parents as the case may be). It is easy to go into an IEP meeting thinking that the administrators and teachers have your child’s best interest at heart. That’s not necessarily the case. While these people may be caring and decent people, they have other interests to consider – budgets, time constraints, other students, etc. You are the only one who is truly devoted to getting what is best for your child. Also, you are the one who knows your child best.  Just like when you go into a pediatrician’s office and describe your child’s symptoms and behavior, the same is true when attending an IEP meeting. You have interacted with your child more than anyone else. You see changes, skills, abilities (and disabilities) more than the folks who only see your child at school.  Share your knowledge and make sure the IEP team gets the benefit of your expertise as a parent.

On the second point, it can be difficult as a layperson to question those whom we see as experts. We have all been trained to defer to those with more experience. Unfortunately, some “experts” have been trained to talk down to others. A small personal story — years ago I took my grandmother to the doctor for a small skin rash. The doctor said it was psoriasis. I asked him how he knew it was psoriasis and not eczema, a similar skin condition. I will never forget his answer. “Because,” he said, “I’m a doctor.” He may as well have said, “Shut up and don’t question my expertise.” If someone on your IEP team ever adopts such an attitude with you, stand up to that person and demand answers. It is your child whose future is at issue, not the teacher’s.

As for resources, the rise in awareness of disability and IEP’s has created an entire field of special education law. Not that you need an attorney to obtain an IEP, but you should be aware of your child’s legal rights. One excellent resource that comes highly recommended from parents is Wrightslaw.com, which contains a wealth of information on disability law and special education.

No doubt a number of you have had to deal with IEP issues for your child. What has been effective for you in terms of getting the best plan for your child? What hasn’t worked? What legal entanglements have you run into? What advise do you have so that others may benefit?

Some Source References:

For general information on IEP’s (and one with a special focus on Maryland), I would recommend the following sites:

Maryland State Department of Education

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Education.com

Schaffer v Weast (a summary of the Supreme Court’s decision on burden of proof in IEP matters)

 

 

The daily struggle of raising a disabled child

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Parents must cope with daily concerns of special needs children

Like many parents, I am blessed to have healthy children.  I take it for granted that my kids are smart, active, well-adjusted.  I don’t even have to think about their health other than the occasional cold or earache or sprained ankle. Others are not so fortunate.

This past weekend I was reading in Maryland Family Magazine an article about a local college professor who wrote a book about raising a son with severe autism.  After writing the book, he assumed that a major publisher would have interest. He ended up being turned down by some agents who told him that without a happy ending or a cure, there was no way they could market the story. Apparently, the public wants stories about disability to have a Hollywood ending. (A publisher finally did come along that agreed to publish the book).

This, in turn, made me think of a good friend of mine (I’ll call her Jane), who has a disabled son (autism spectrum) in addition to three normal children. I hesitate to use the words normal and disabled for two reasons:  1) we live in a politically correct world where deciding what label to apply to anything means stepping into a social minefield; and 2) on the spectrum of mental or physical ability, it can be difficult to say what exactly is normal versus abnormal. I never want to suggest that children with limitations are abnormal. Some parents even bristle at the term “disabled.” Others use the more cumbersome term “neurotypical” rather than the term “normal.” You can see that it can be hard to discuss the topic of disability when we don’t even have terms we can all agree on.

Jane and I often discuss our kids and parenting. She has been very candid with me in describing how incredibly hard it is to raise a disabled child. She believes that no one really wants to hear the negative side of raising a child with special needs. Like the publishing agents that the professor encountered, some people only want to hear about the inspirational side of the story. Truth is, there is not always a happy ending or miracle cure when raising a disabled child, be it autism or cerebral palsy or paraplegia. These are life-long disabilities. There are happy moments, of course, as well as accomplishments both major and minor, but for parents raising a disabled child, it is a daily struggle to make sure that the child gets the medical care and therapy and attention that he or she needs. Parents undertake this monumental and thankless task not because they hope for some Hollywood ending, but because they love their child and they do what they need to do, even if they never knew they had such strength and determination in them.

It’s not all negative, of course. Jane tells me all the time how much she loves her son and how he has taught her so much about herself and about life. She says she cannot imagine who she would be without her son. At the same time, however, she also feels a lot of pain and loss and regret about what she and her family have had to sacrifice in order to care for her disabled son. The daily struggle can truly be overwhelming at times. Jane believes that parents often feel unable to express these feelings for fear of being branded a less-than-stellar parent. As she told me, “There isn’t a safe place to express one’s own doubts about being able to effectively take care of another person who requires so much care. It’s daunting, hard and stressful and for some reason it’s not completely OK to admit that.”  Jane is careful about the sentiments she expresses in public versus those she tells to her friends:

There is the aspect of autism that you are allowed to talk about versus not allowed. I’m allowed to admit it’s hard, but I can’t really say how hard or I’m too negative. I’m just supposed to say it has changed my perspective and I’m blessed.  It has changed my perspective but I’m not blessed. Shut up about being blessed.

While disabilities are all different and every parent’s story is unique, there is a common thread that runs through them all – raising a disabled child takes its toll on the parents and the family as well as the child. The challenges can be enormous. Some of the more common challenges include:

  • Financial:  Finding ways to afford medical care, therapy, services;  working with insurance companies and various state agencies;
  • Educational:  Struggling with teachers and school administrators to make sure that your child is getting an appropriate education and Individualized Education Program or IEP.
  • Medical:  Finding doctors who are willing to take the time to listen to your concerns and diagnose your child; getting referrals to specialists; sorting through the myriad hoops of insurance; finding therapies that work for your child;
  • Social:  The loss of normal everyday activities like going out to dinner, taking trips, seeing friends; not having anywhere to turn to talk about what they are going through.
  • Marital:  A couple often experiences difficulty because of all the other stresses that are created by having a disabled child, as well as the substantial time investment that is required.
  • Family: Other children in the family can be affected because mom and dad have to devote so much time to the disabled child and because the family’s usual routine and activities are disrupted; money can often be tight.
  • Psychological: Many mothers experience feelings of guilt, wondering if it was something they did during pregnancy that caused their child to have this disability.
  • Legal: Figuring out what rights you and your disabled child have, what services you are entitled to.

I can’t say enough about those parents who take on these challenges on a daily basis.  It is difficult to even imagine the level of devotion and commitment that is required.  I welcome all parents to share their stories — the good and the bad — so that the rest of us can try to better understand the reality of raising a disabled child.  In future blogs I will talk about some of these challenges in more detail and where parents can turn for assistance.

Image from metroparent.com

Medical Malpractice: Newborn Carbon Dioxide Poisoning Results in Verdict of $16.5 Million

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Dwight Peterson, Army Staff Sgt., and his wife Shalay presented to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI for an elective cesarean section in January of 2005. Their son Izzy was born a healthy child, but now requires 24 hour care.

The Star Bulletin reported that within just one minute after the birth of Izzy Peterson, pediatrician Army Major Danielle Bird mistakenly administered carbon dioxide, used for stomach surgery, to the healthy newborn. It was not until nearly 42 minutes had passed, and the carbon dioxide tank was almost empty that someone realized this tragic error. Oxygen was supplemented, but by the time this intervention was attempted, Izzy had sustained irreversible brain damage.

Soon after Izzy’s birth, the Peterson family relocated to San Antonio, TX where they have obtained specialized care for Izzy. Izzy is fed through a gastrostomy tube and breathes through a tracheostomy, which he will do for the rest of his life.

Rick Fried, the Peterson’s attorney, filed suit in which it was alleged that Major Bird, a pediatrician doing her fellowship in neonatology, should have noted the difference between the carbon dioxide and oxygen tanks prior to administration. You think?!

Bird…would have had to adjust the upright regulator of the free-standing cylinder clearly labeled carbon dioxide, different from the clocklike regulator attached to oxygen tanks…

Attorneys for the defense tried to claim early on that Izzy had been born with some type of defect; an at-home video of Izzy’s birth as a healthy baby boy proved otherwise.

“You see him take his hand, trying to brush it (the carbon dioxide) away,” Fried said. “Even at birth he knew it wasn’t good for him.”

Although severely brain damaged, Izzy maintains self awareness, can track movement with his eyes and recognizes and responds to his parents. Izzy can feel pain and kick a ball, but will never perform as an average child.

Not present for the decision, the Petersons were informed that federal judge, David Ezra, ruled in favor of the family. Dwight and Shalay Peterson were awarded $16.5 million, which will help to pay for Izzy’s extensive medical care.

Tripler’s Maj. Gen. Carla Halwey-Bowland said in a news release: “Tripler Army Medical Center accepts responsibility for this tragic incident and respects the decision made by the Honorable David Ezra. Our command and well-trained staff are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure an incident similar to this never happens again, such as improvements in medical gas safety — how they are labeled and handled and staff education.”

Tripler Army Medical Center is the largest Army hospital in the Pacific basin. It contains over 200 hospital beds and provides medical care to almost 400,000 eligible patients. The Medical Center is accredited with providing the best medical care in it’s region, but even in the best hospitals, mistakes can be made.

Malpractice Verdict: NY jury renders verdict in excess of $60 million for brain damage from dystocia

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Mary Swanson gave birth to Michael Swanson, October 10, 2003 at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY. While giving birth, Mary Swanson was found to have dystocia,  a condition in which the child’s shoulder becomes entrapped by the mother’s pubic bone.

Mrs. Swanson and her husband, Bruce, alleged that the obstetrician, Dr. Carla Eng-Kohn, and the hospital’s staff were negligent in properly performing Michael’s delivery.

Plaintiffs’ counsel also claimed that dystocia was a result of a nurse’s mismanagement of the delivery. Dr. Eng-Kohn was not present when the nurse initiated the pushing process. Swanson’s counsel contended that Mary Swanson’s unsupervised pushing led to the development of the dystocia.

The plaintiffs’ expert obstetrician also opined that eight or nine minutes passed before the dystocia was relieved, and the plaintiffs’ expert neurologist testified that the prolonged dystocia asphyxiated the baby. He stated his opinion that monitors indicated that Michael suffered two minutes of tachycardia, which is an abnormally fast heartbeat, and he suggested that the condition was an indication of distress. Plaintiffs’ counsel claimed that Michael was not crying when he was delivered and that the child’s face exhibited a bluish discoloration.

To complete delivery, excessive traction was applied to the baby’s head causing a brachial plexus injury and lateral medullary syndrome. The child’s residual injuries include moderate speech delays and the delayed ability to swallow and complications from aspiration pneumonia. Plaintiffs claimed Michael will need surgical intervention and/or need permanent residential care, intense speech, physical and occupational therapy.

Michael’s parents sought recovery of Michael’s past medical expenses, the cost of his future rehabilitative therapy, the cost of his future custodial care, his remaining future medical expenses, his future lost earnings, and damages for his past and future pain and suffering .

After hearing all the evidence, the jury found that Women’s Medical Associates was vicariously responsible for Dr. Eng-Kohn’s actions and along with the doctor, was assigned 75% of the total liability. Northern Westchester Hospital was charged with the other 25% liability. The Swanson’s were awarded a total of $60,939,847.00 for all damages.

Cerebral Palsy: Cord Blood Stem Cell Research and Treatment in Clinical Trials – Update

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

For those of  you who follow our blogs, you know well that this is a topic of interest for us.  It bears repeating – our job as lawyers is to properly investigate potential claims of malpractice in areas such as cerebral palsy and seek redress for our clients when the evidence demonstrates a connection between birth injuries and medical care, but the much more important topic for our clients and victims of cerebral palsy is in the field of medical research. It is through research efforts – including clinical trials – that this dreaded condition will be ameliorated and hopefully eradicated. Trust me, after practicing law for over 35 years, I’m not worried about job security – the frailties of the human condition will more than suffice to fill our file cabinets with people to help due to the negligence of others.

We have reported previously on various topics involving cord blood and stem cell research as they relate to a number of conditions, including cerebral palsy.  It seems that months have passed since there has been any significant news about two programs underway: one at the Medical College of Georgia and the other at Duke.  Earlier this month, an update came across the social media network via a post by Singularity Hub – Cord Blood Stem Cell Treatment for Cerebral Palsy in Clinical Trial | Singularity Hub.

Here’s our encapsulated version regarding the studies and Singularity Hub’s report.

Photo provided by MSNBC

Duke University

According to the website ClincalTrials.gov, Duke began a clinical therapeutic trial – identifier: NCT00593242 - in January 2008 (estimated completion date of January 2011) whose primary purpose is listed as treatment of newborns with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) – inadequate oxygenation in the perinatal period for purposes of this study – through the controlled “collection, preparation and infusion of a baby’s own (autologous) umbilical cord blood in the first 14 days after birth if the baby is born with signs of brain injury.” For information concerning the inclusion and exclusion criteria for participation in this clinical trial, see the online posting. Essentially, the babies are then to be “followed for neurodevelopmental outcome at 4 – 6 and 9 – 12 months at Duke’s Special Infant Care Clinic. MRI’s will be obtained between postnatal weeks 1 and 4, and, for study purposes at 4 – 6 postnatal months.”

While other aspects of processing and administration are no doubt part of the key components of this project, it is readily apparent that the end-point goal is discovery of an effective treatment of cerebral palsy for the identified neonates in the study and then development of a second stage clinical trial to take such treatment modality to a greater number of potential beneficiaries.

Medical College of Georgia

For detailed information on this study, which began in February of this year, similar information is available through ClinicalTrials.gov under identifier NCT01072370.  This clinical trial investigation has a patient population consisting of children from ages of 2 to 12, “whose parents have saved their infant’s cord blood, who have non-progressive motor disability, and whose parents intend to have a cord blood infusion.”  Again – for full details regarding inclusion and exclusion criteria, see the full online posting.

For those parents who may be interested in determining if their child would qualify to participate, the study is still recruiting participants.  The contact information is also available at this link: Contact: James E Carroll, M.D.     706-721-3371     jcarroll@mcg.edu

Today’s report from Singularity Hub provides some encouraging – albeit anecdotal – news of potential progress.

The anecdotal evidence in support of treating cerebral palsy with cord blood stem cells is astounding. Much of it has actually been been performed at Duke University by one of the investigators in the pilot study: Joanne Kurtzberg. Among those that have been successfully treated at Duke include Ryan Schneider, Maia Friedlander, Chloe Levine, and Dallas Hextell. All had CP or CP-like symptoms and all made remarkable recoveries after cord blood stem cell treatments. Dallas Hextell, who showed improvements just 5 days after his therapy was featured on the Today show (the original report contains video compliments of MSNBC).

In addition to the early good news coming out of these projects, one other lesson is learned – for the time being, the storage of cord blood is an important component for those hoping to participate in such studies – particularly that being conducted at the Medical College of Georgia.  We have earlier reported on this topic as well.  You may want to refer to our early posting for some basic information if you are interested.

Obviously, the implications – if these projects prove to be successful – are far-reaching. The enthusiasm of the participants in these research projects is not limited to them alone. The words of the author, Aaron Saenz, from Singularity Hub somewhat tells it all:

So we have some exciting news for cerebral palsy, and some exciting news for those thinking about cord blood. What about the rest of us? Well the MCG and Duke work has some far reaching implications. Neurological damage, whether it’s caused by oxygen deprivation or some other injury, is one of the most difficult things to heal in the body. Work in animals (like that done by Carroll on rats) show that stem cells can not only help damaged brain cells recover, but they can also replace cells that have died. We may find that stem cells therapies have a wide range of applications for many different forms of brain damage. Kurtzberg is researching many different ways cord blood could be used (autologous or through donors) to treat a variety of conditions. In other words, today stem cells conquer cerebral palsy…tomorrow, the world.

Let’s all hope that Mr. Saenz is a prophet.