When an infant is born with unexpected injuries or conditions, many questions arise. New parents will want to know what happened, why it happened, and whether or not there is someone to blame. When there is someone to blame, like a negligent doctor, parents may be able to take legal action on behalf of their baby and family in order to recover compensation for the losses they incurred and to hold the physician or hospital accountable for their actions.
Diseases like retinopathy of prematurity can be difficult to wrap your head around. When you’ve discovered your baby could be or will be blind, it will ultimately change the course of both your lives. If the condition was preventable, it can make the situation that much more difficult to cope with.
At Thomas Law Offices, we understand how overwhelming it can be to care for a newborn while finding ways to cope with unexpected complications. That’s why our Louisville retinopathy of prematurity lawyers can guide families through the legal process and ease the burdens by handling difficult conversations and negotiations. If you’re thinking about pursuing a claim, you’ll benefit from understanding what retinopathy of prematurity is and why your family may benefit from the help of an attorney.
Table of Contents
What Is Retinopathy of Prematurity?
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a disease that can cause blindness. It occurs when the retinal blood vessels in premature infants develop abnormally. Three months after conception takes place, the retina’s blood vessels begin development and will be complete at the time of a typical birth.
Once out of the womb, a full-term infant’s blood vessels stop developing. ROP however, is a condition where a premature baby’s eyes continue to develop after birth. As a result, their eyes can become filled with blood. While the majority of these cases reverse themselves, there are instances were permanent damage is caused. If the vessels stick to the retina and detach, blindness will set in and it can be permanent.
Babies who weigh less than 3.3 pounds or are born before 31 weeks gestation are at the highest risk for developing this potentially blind disease. Of the nearly four million infants born annually, it’s estimated by the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) that ROP affects approximately 14,000. Fortunately, 90 percent of the affected individuals recover. About 1,100 to 1,500 will require medical intervention, and 400 to 600 babies become legally blind.
Causes of ROP
Researchers are still working to understand what it is that causes the abnormal growth of retinal vessels in premature infants. Studies conducted by the Children’s Hospital Boston suggest that ROP happens because premature babies are cut off early from chemicals they receive in the womb like insulin-like growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor.
There are, however, instances of medical malpractice that can contribute to birth injuries like ROP and their progression. A negligent physician could expose a newborn to toxins, fail to use proper oxygen therapy after birth, provide untimely or irregular eye exams to high-risk infants, fail to diagnose the condition when symptoms are present, or fail to promptly treat the condition while it is treatable.
Any time a doctor or hospital breaches their duty of care and a patient is harmed as a result, the victims can take legal action. Our retinopathy of prematurity attorneys have the experience needed to build your family a successful case.
Diagnosing Retinopathy of Prematurity
Generally, retinopathy of prematurity has no visible symptoms, so it can be difficult to identify. This is why pediatric ophthalmologists screen all at-risk infants with special equipment. At-risk babies with a birth weight of less than 1500 grams or a gestational age of 31 weeks or less will undergo an examination within the first four to nine weeks after birth, depending on how premature they were.
During the screening exam, the doctor will usually dilate the eyes to enlarge the pupils, use an eyelid speculum to hold the eyelid open, use a scleral depression to check the retina by moving the eye in different directions, and use an indirect ophthalmoscope, which sends a bright light into the eye, to examine the retina.
If the exam determines the retina’s blood vessels have finished growing, a follow-up is unnecessary. If, however, there are signs of ROP, scheduling follow-up exams to monitor the condition and determine a course of treatment is necessary.
If an infant’s condition is severe, signs may become visible. Nystagmus (abnormal eye movements), leukocoria (white pupils), and general signs of vision trouble could develop.
Treatments for Retinopathy of Prematurity
Doctors can closely monitor the progression of retinopathy of prematurity and determine when to begin treatment. The goal of treatment is to halt the blood vessel’s abnormal growth to limit the harmful effects.
Photocoagulation, or laser therapy, is the first course of action for ROP. An anesthesiologist will administer local or general anesthesia before the procedure. The physician will use a diode laser to make tiny burns in the periphery of the retina. This prevents the blood vessels from continuing to grow.
Cryopexy, also known as cryotherapy, was previously the primary procedure to treat this condition. A pen-like instrument, called cryoprobe, will freeze parts of the retina’s periphery through the outer wall. This procedure is most useful when the retina cannot be fully seen.
While the procedures above can stop abnormal blood vessel growth, they do not come without risks. When destroying the retina’s periphery, the child could lose some of their side vision. The procedures aim to save the central vision, which is the most important part of sight.
If a retina becomes completely detached, eye surgery may be an option. There are two common types of surgery: scleral buckling and vitrectomy. Scleral buckling involves putting a silicone band around the eye, so the retina is close enough to the wall to reattach itself. Vitrectomy replaces the vitreous substance in the eye with a saline solution or oil. Surgeons peel back the scar tissue or cut it away so the retina can flatten against the wall of the eye.
Recovering Compensation for Your Child with an Experienced Lawyer
Coming to terms with the reality that your child has a preventable, permanent disability is challenging. It’s likely they will need continued medical care, which is expensive. Instead of worrying about paying for medical bills, our lawyers will work to ensure you receive the compensation needed to provide your child with the highest quality of life possible.
As conditions like this can develop naturally, it can be difficult to prove negligence was involved. Our attorneys will conduct a thorough investigation and speak with medical experts to prove a different physician would have approached your child’s care differently, and a better outcome would have resulted. We will not settle until your family has what they need to recover and move on.
If you believe proper medical intervention could have prevented your child’s ROP, our Louisville retinopathy of prematurity lawyers will investigate your claim and determine if you are owed compensation. We fight for Kentucky citizens who have been wrongfully harmed. To learn more about your legal rights and options and how you can build a stable future for your family, contact our office today.