The developing brain is a marvel. While research has shown the brain is capable of healing and forming new neural connections well into adulthood, the growth of the brain in utero and during the early years of a child’s life provides the foundation for all that is to come. When there is a problem at this critical stage, the path to future growth becomes uncertain.
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor function disability of childhood. Caused by abnormal development or damage to a developing brain, it is estimated that about one in 350 to one in 500 children will be diagnosed with this disorder.
The type of disability each child will experience will be as unique as the child themselves. In general, cerebral palsy can cause muscle weakness, an unsteady gate (walking), involuntary movements, exaggerated reflexes, an unusual posture, and/or spasticity or floppiness of the trunk and limbs. Unfortunately, while treatments can help improve a child’s functional abilities, there is no cure for cerebral palsy.
Some cases of cerebral palsy are unavoidable, but other times a medical provider’s negligent actions or perhaps inaction are a cause or contributor to the brain injury that results in CP. If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy is a result of medical malpractice, you may be able to receive compensation and damages for your child and yourself. While no amount of money can return what has been lost, it can go a long way to covering the medical bills that ongoing treatments and/or attendant care will cost.
Cerebral Palsy is a life-long condition.
What causes Cerebral Palsy?
Most cases of cerebral palsy are caused by abnormal development of, or damage to, the fetal brain. Problems during a delivery or during early infancy can also lead to the condition. Some common causes of the abnormality in the brain or brain damage include:
- Maternal infections or toxic exposures (including rubella, herpes, cytomegalovirus, Zika virus, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, intrauterine infections, and exposure to mercury).
- Maternal health (thyroid issues, seizures, preeclampsia).
- Fetal stroke (blood flow to the brain is disrupted or there is bleeding in the brain in utero or during infancy).
- Infections in the infant causing inflammation in or around the brain (including bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, untreated jaundice).
- Traumatic brain injuries (blows to the head, falls, damage during delivery by medical tools or improper force applied by the medical provider).
- Asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain during delivery).
- Genetic mutations.
Certain risk factors or circumstances during pregnancy, birth, and in early infancy greatly increase the likelihood of cerebral palsy. These include:
- Premature births.
- Multiple births.
- Low birth weight.
- Complications during delivery such as an unusual position (breech or transverse lie) or the rupture of amniotic membranes leading to fetal infection.
The brain damage or brain abnormalities that cause cerebral palsy can occur at any time during pregnancy or early childhood. Prenatal causes or events from birth to 28 days of age are referred to as congenital cerebral palsy. Postnatal cerebral palsy occurs from the age of 28 days to 2 years.
Approximately 60,000 Canadians have a form of cerebral palsy.
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy.
The particular part(s) of the brain that is/are damaged affects how the cerebral palsy presents. Generally, symptoms include difficulties with:
- Speech problems.
- Developmental issues.
Physical symptoms may affect the entire body, one side of the body, or be limited to one or two body parts. Common physical symptoms include:
- Spasticity (stiff muscles with unusual reflexes).
- Rigidity (stiff muscles with normal reflexes).
- Muscle tone variation.
- Balance issues (ataxia).
- Difficulty walking.
- Favouring one side of the body.
- Involuntary movements.
- Difficulty with fine motor skills.
Speech development may be delayed in children with cerebral palsy and/or there may be difficulty speaking. Difficulty controlling the muscles of the mouth can result in drooling, and problems with chewing, swallowing or sucking.
Developmental delays may include:
- Learning disabilities.
- Intellectual disabilities.
- Slowness to reach milestones such as sitting up, crawling or walking.
- Delayed growth/smaller size.
Other neurological symptoms may include:
- Hearing or vision loss.
- Abnormal eye movement.
- Sensory abnormalities.
- Emotional or behavioural disorders and other mental health conditions.
Early treatment, especially for muscle rigidity, can lead to better function and less pain for a child. Since cerebral palsy is caused by permanent brain abnormalities or damage, symptoms don’t often change as a child grows in adulthood. However, they may become more or less apparent depending on the stage of development.
Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy.
Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy are not always immediately evident. If your doctor or pediatrician notices signs of abnormalities or possible symptoms of cerebral palsy, (s)he may conduct a physical exam, refer you to a specialist, or order diagnostic tests such as a CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography), an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or an EEG (Electroencephalogram).
There are different ways to classify types of cerebral palsy. Sometimes people refer to the number of limbs affected when speaking of cerebral palsy types:
- Monoplegia (one limb affected, normally an arm).
- Hemiplegia (one side of the body is affected, normally the arm more than the leg).
- Triplegia (three limbs affected, normally both arms and a leg).
- Diplegia (all four limbs affected, normally legs more than arms).
- Quadriplegia (all four limbs involved).
Another form of classification involves movement disorders:
- Spastic cerebral palsy results in tight and stiff muscles that limit movement. The most common form of cerebral palsy, it is caused by damage to the motor cortex. Muscle groups usually act in tandem. One contracts while it’s pair relaxes to allow movement. With spastic cerebral palsy, both muscles in the group perform the same action (co-contraction) and block movement.
- Choreo-athetoid cerebral palsy results in involuntary movements or difficulty coordinating movement. Caused by damage to the basal ganglia or cerebellum, involuntary movements can include athetosis (writhing), ataxia (balance problems), chorea (jerks) and dystonia (twisting). Complex actions such as speaking or eating can be difficult.
- Mixed-type cerebral palsy is a designation given to cases where there are issues with both muscle tone and involuntary movements. Generally the spasticity presents first and the involuntary movements become apparent as the child ages.
Often both types of classifications will be used to describe cerebral palsies. For example, spastic monopelgia describes a case where there is muscle rigidity in one limb.
Managing Cerebral Palsy.
Unfortunately, an official diagnosis can take months or even years. The intervening period can be extremely difficult on the parents and loved ones of a child who is not developing as expected. Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, a variety of therapies can greatly enhance life for people with this condition. These therapies include:
- Physical therapy.
- Assistive devices and adaptive equipment (splints, casts, orthotics, mobility aids, communication devices).
- Occupational therapy.
- Speech language therapy.
- Music therapy.
- Medications such as botox.
- Orthopedic surgery, soft-tissue surgery, neurosurgery.
While some of these treatments and therapies are covered by the public healthcare system, other interventions are the responsibility of the child’s parents or guardians. The costs can be immense depending on the extent of the disability.Research suggests direct health care costs for children aged 1-4 with cerebral palsy were approximately $11,700 (in constant 2010 Canadian dollars) compared to $600 for other children. Moreover, people with cerebral palsy tend to have longer periods of poor health.
How can Cerebral Palsy lawyers help?
Determining whether medical malpractice caused or contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy can be a complex, challenging and time-consuming process. However, if such a case can be made, you may be able to claim compensations and damages that could greatly help your child and your family. Compensation could cover the immense cost of treatment and secure your child’s future if they require life-long medical and attendant care. Moreover, if someone’s negligence has caused you and your child pain, suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life, you deserve a court award or settlement to acknowledge this damage.
Gluckstein’s cerebral palsy birth injury lawyers can help you build a case and make a claim on behalf of your child. Since our team will only receive payment if we are successful in helping you access funds for your child, you will not have to worry about the cost of obtaining justice while you focus on your child’s immediate needs.
When you contact our team for a no cost, no obligation consultation, we will listen to you attentively with an empathetic ear. We will explain your legal rights, outline your various options, and alert you to supports that could benefit your family. If you decide to make a claim with us as your legal representative, you can be confident that we will be your fearless advocate and always have your family’s best interests at heart.
At Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers, we live by our commitment to full-circle care. We will work tirelessly to not only advance your legal case and achieve an award or settlement, but also to help your loved one obtain what they need to live their best life possible.
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