untreated congenital heart defects may lead to brain injury

Expecting parents naturally hope that their babies will be born healthy, though sometimes birth defects do occur. Whether the defect is detected during pregnancy or just after birth, parents rely on their obstetrician and other medical staff to quickly identify any problems and remedy them as soon as possible. When doctors fail to do this, serious issues can develop and affect the child for the rest of his or her life. 

Congenital heart defects are among the problems that doctors routinely see in newborns. Two such defects are hypoplastic left heart syndrome and transportation of the great arteries. Both conditions affect how blood flows through the heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypoplastic left heart syndrome results in the left side of the heart forming incorrectly. Transposition of the great arteries means that the main arteries of the heart (the aorta and the pulmonary artery) are switched in their positioning. 

Both conditions are treatable, typically with surgery shortly after the baby is born. This surgery doesn’t always take place right away, but according to a recent study, it should. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have identified a risk of brain injury in babies who do not undergo surgery quickly enough after birth.

The study analyzed the oxygen extraction and cerebral blood flow of a group of babies with these defects and found that the longer surgery to restore heart function is delayed, the greater the decrease in cerebral oxygen saturation and blood flow.

What does this mean to the layman — particularly a baby’s parents? It means that babies with these heart defects who don’t have surgery within the first four days of their lives have a greater risk of brain injury, which could leave them dependent on others their entire lives. 

Parents of newborns with birth defects can easily become overwhelmed by medical information as they try to learn everything they can about their baby’s condition. But it’s important they understand what’s happening amid the anxiety and medical jargon. Parents who feel their doctor hasn’t taken the necessary steps to ensure the long-term health of their baby may want to reach out for help from an attorney who focuses on doctor errors, particularly those that may result in lifelong brain injuries. In cases where irreparable damage has been done, the family may consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

Source: Cardiology Today, “Delaying heart surgery in newborns may raise risk for brain injury,” March 3, 2014

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