doctors could do more to prevent brachial plexus during birth

Most people know that October is breast cancer awareness month. But there is also another important awareness event that took place last month. Oct. 16-22 is awareness week for brachial plexus. Unfortunately, the awareness week was not well-publicized, and many people do not even know what brachial plexus is.

Like many birth injuries, brachial plexus is typically caused by traumatic birth, though it can also be caused by sporting accidents or car accidents. Brachial plexus is an all too common experience for parents in Pittsburgh, though many parents are unaware of the threat that this kind of birth injury poses until it is too late.

One woman, Annette, recently wrote about her son’s experience with brachial plexus, as well as her own struggles with learning about the injury.

When brachial plexus is caused during birth, it is because a baby gets stuck in the birth canal. This often results in a child’s arm being unable to function properly. When Annette was giving birth to her son, he got stuck in her birth canal. At 9 pounds, 6 ounces and 22 inches long, her son was big. The delivery did not go well, and the son was pushed and pulled by doctors and nurses for more than three hours before he came out.

When he was finally born, the doctor told Annette that her son had Erb’s palsy, which is a type of brachial plexus that causes severe nerve damage to the shoulder. Her son’s arm hung inertly at his side. During his first few months of life, his arm was attached to his shirt to make sure he didn’t roll onto it while he was sleeping.

Annette will be meeting with a surgeon soon to determine whether her son should have surgery on his shoulder. Like every surgery, there are inherent dangers. Moreover, the surgery is rare and extensive, and it’s tough for any parent to let a child go under a surgeon’s knife — especially if it was a doctor’s mistake that caused the problem to begin with.

Annette wrote her story as a way to inform parents about the injuries that can happen to babies during birth and the routine procedures that can be used to avoid those injuries. Despite being a reporter and journalist with an innate desire to learn about every detail of her pregnancy, Annette wrote, “Never while I was pregnant, not once, did I read anything about brachial plexus or anything that suggested an injury like that could happen during birth.”

Annette was committed to learning about her pregnancy, and she still did not learn about the possibility of brachial plexus until it was too late. What will it take before doctors and nurses inform their patients about the dangers that can accompany child birth? How many more innocent children need to be born with life-long injuries before doctors take more drastic steps to prevent brachial plexus and other avoidable birth injuries?

Source: Holland Sentinel, “Brachial plexus: A child’s injury that doesn’t have to happen,” Annette Manwell, Oct. 31, 2011

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