What is an anoxic brain injury?
Anoxic brain injury results from the brain being completely deprived of oxygen for a significant length of time. If the human brain is denied of oxygen for too long, neural cells begin to die through a process called apoptosis. When a large number of brain cells simultaneously die, patients can be left with diminished brain function. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the greater the brain damage and after a certain length of time the patient will die.
Similarly, hypoxia occurs when a reduced flow oxygen delivered. Anoxia and hypoxia are sometimes used interchangeably however they are different, i.e. reduction vs absence of oxygen.
What causes an anoxic brain injury?
Anoxic brain injury in childbirth can be caused by a number factors. These include:
Prolapsed umbilical cord - If the umbilical cord is compressed during pregnancy or labour, oxygen can be cut off from the baby, resulting in brain damage if not rectified quickly. One of the most common causes of umbilical cord compression is when the cord becomes prolapsed, meaning it slips ahead of the infant and into the birth canal during labour. This can cause it to become compressed. The umbilical cord can also become knotted or, in rare circumstances, become wrapped around the baby’s neck resulting in anoxia. The risks of a prolapsed umbilical cord are increased if the labour is prolonged, the mother is carrying twins, the cord is unusually long or there is too much amniotic fluid.
Anaemia - If the mother suffers from severe anaemia she may not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to her baby. Anoxic brain injury can also result from the baby itself suffering anaemia.
Preterm birth - Preterm births carry a risk for birth anoxia because the infant’s lungs may not be fully developed (the lungs are the last organ to develop in a neonatal infant).
Placental abruption - In this situation, the placenta tears away from the uterus. The umbilical cord is connected to the placenta, which delivers the vital nutrients and oxygen required by the foetus. If this condition is not diagnosed in time and the baby delivered quickly, anoxia can develop, leading to a devastating brain injury in the newborn.
What are the symptoms of an anoxic brain injury?
Doctors need to establish quickly whether or not anoxia has occurred. The obvious sign is the baby failing to breathe after he or she is delivered. However, medical staff need to be alert for signs that at some point during the pregnancy and/or labour, your infant may have suffered from anoxia. Typical medical indicators of a current or prior anoxic state can include decline in mental functions, jerky motions, a weakened body, or even lack of consciousness.
Your baby’s Apgar score can also indicate that anoxia has occurred. At one minute after birth, and again at five minutes after birth, your midwife or doctor will evaluate your baby's wellbeing by giving a score between zero and two after checking certain factors such as heartrate, skin colour, muscle tone and breathing. The scores are then added up to give the Apgar score for each check. Your midwife uses the scale each time to assess whether your baby needs any immediate help.
Symptoms of anoxic brain injury may present immediately. Your baby’s appearance shortly after birth can provide an indication that a brain injury may have occurred. Signs include:
- Abnormally large forehead
- Abnormally-shaped spine
- Distorted facial features
- Unusually small heads (more prominent in smaller infants)
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulties in focusing the eyes
Your child may also have difficulty feeding, sleeping and seem excessively fussy.
Sometimes brain damage due to lack of oxygen is not spotted until after the infant goes home from hospital and the parents begin to notice that something is not quite right with their precious baby. Alarm bells may start ringing due to developmental delays such as difficulties with:
- Attention and concentration
- Memory and processing information
- Processing language
- Controlling impulses
As the infant grows older, additional physical symptoms may manifest. Some physical symptoms may be difficult to diagnose (such as headaches) whereas other symptoms may be more obvious. Some of the more obvious symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Sleeping disorders
- Light sensitivity
Other physical symptoms include missing developmental milestones such as:
- Pulling themselves up without assistance
- Hopping or skipping
- Walking up and down stairs without assistance
- Feeding themselves without assistance
- Tying shoes, drawing, and colouring without assistance
- Sitting up alone, without assistance
- Getting dressed without assistance
- Holding things without dropping them and with a firm grasp
Doctors may perform a CT or MRI scan to determine if a brain injury has occurred. Treatments available include surgery, assisted breathing, occupational therapy and cooling therapy may be used to minimise the extent of the brain injury.
What are the different types of anoxic brain injuries?
Anoxic brain injury in children can manifest itself in many ways and can vary in terms of severity and long-term prognosis, including:
- Learning and development delays
- Cerebral Palsy
- Behavioural problems
- Heterotopic Ossification
Can I claim compensation for an anoxic brain injury?
You can claim compensation for an anoxic brain injury if you can prove that the brain injury was caused by another person or organisation’s negligent acts or omissions. For example, if your baby has suffered a brain injury due to anoxia, then to claim compensation, you and your solicitor would need to show:
- That the doctors, nurses, midwives and/or hospital owed you a duty of care;
- This duty was breached; and
- Your baby suffered damage (i.e. a brain injury) as a result.
It is relatively easy for a solicitor experienced in anoxic brain injury claims to establish that the private clinic or NHS Trust and their staff owed the victim of a brain injury caused by birth hypoxia a duty of care.
In deciding whether or not the duty was breached, the claimant must show that whatever the doctor did or did not do fell below the standard of a reasonably competent doctor in that particular field of medicine. The test of whether a doctor breached the duty of care owed to a patient is whether he or she has failed to meet the standard of a reasonable body of other practitioners also skilled in that field. This is known as the “Bolam test”.
As a claimant, you must also prove, on the balance of probabilities, that your infant’s brain injury was caused by the anoxia. This is often the most difficult part of the claim to prove; therefore, it is imperative that you instruct a lawyer who is experienced in bringing negligence claims concerning acute anoxic brain injury related brain injuries in newborns.
How much compensation will I get?
The amount of compensation you will get depends on the extent of your child’s brain injury and the effect on their life and yours. For example, babies who have endured an anoxic brain injury coma which resulted in severe brain injuries, and are unable to live a normal life have been awarded seven figure sums by the courts.
Large compensation awards are often desperately needed by parents. Many have had to give up work in order to care for their child, make expensive adjustments to their home and pay for additional care and support. If your baby’s anoxic brain damage was caused by the negligence of the doctors or other healthcare professionals present at the birth, then it is fair and just that the NHS Trust or private clinic responsible assist you in the long-term care of your child.
How do I make a claim?
IBB Solicitors are experts in the field of clinical and medical negligence.
The first step in making a claim is to contact us. We deal with every situation in a sensitive, professional manner and will make a thorough assessment of your case. Claims for anoxic brain injury often require expert medical opinion, which we will organise on your behalf.
Our legal team are committed to ensuring clients feel fully supported throughout the claims process. We will quickly establish the facts of your case and explain our strategy for obtaining compensation for an anoxic brain injury in straight-forward terms. From medical reports to mediation or court proceedings, we will ensure that you feel fully informed every step of the way.
What is the process of making a claim?
Firstly, you need to contact a solicitor who has experience in dealing with brain injury claims. The team at IBB Solicitors can assist you with evaluating whether or not you have a chance of successfully claiming compensation and then work on a strategy for how to ensure that compensation for the anoxic brain damage is awarded. We understand that parents of newborns and older children who have suffered a brain injury following anoxia occurring during pregnancy or labour are often coping with many stresses in their everyday life. To help, our personal injury solicitors work hard to make clients feel as relaxed and confident as possible about their case.
After we have established the case for negligence, our solicitors will inform the NHS Trust or authority responsible for the hospital in which you gave birth, that you are making a claim for compensation on behalf of your child for brain damage caused by birth anoxia.
The relevant authority will have 4 months to conduct its own investigation into the matter, and either admit negligence occurred or challenge the claim. If the claim is challenged, we will issue court proceedings as soon as possible.
We give our clients the confidence to keep fighting for justice because we believe in them. We also have an in-depth understanding of the litigation process and can engage highly-qualified, experienced counsel to advocate for you in court.
How long with the process take?
The time it takes to settle a claim for anoxic brain injury varies. Our solicitors will keep you fully informed on how your anoxic brain injury compensation claim is progressing. We understand our clients are keen for information about their case and we endeavour to ensure that they always understand where their case is up to and the next steps our legal team plan to take.
Will I have to go to court?
In a majority of cases, compensation claims settle outside of court. Our personal injury lawyers have dealt with many claims for brain damage and understand how traumatic attending court is for both the parents and the victim.
Our team are experienced in all forms of alternative disputes resolution, and strive to ensure your compensation claim is settled without resorting to formal litigation.
If you are required to attend court, we will provide you with full support and guidance. Everything will be explained in plain, simple language and we will swiftly answer any questions you may have about the process.
How much will it cost to make a claim?
At IBB Solicitors we understand that many families coping with a child with an anoxic brain injury are already under pressure financially. Therefore, we offer ‘conditional fee arrangements’, otherwise known as ‘no win, no fee’. This means that if your claim is unsuccessful, you will not have to pay any legal fees to our solicitors.
We will ensure that you understand what you are committing to fully before we proceed with your claim. If you have any questions once we start on your case, you can speak directly to your personally appointed solicitor who will liaise with you fully throughout the process.
Our personal injury team at IBB Claims has acquired a reputation for our expertise brain injury claims and for ensuring a professional, empathetic and friendly approach to all of the cases we handle.
If you would like further information on making a compensation claim anoxic brain injury, please call our office on 0333 323 1637