Parents of Brain-Damaged Toddler Seek Answers About Failed Heart Surgery

The parents of Osman Ali of Seattle, Washington filed a medical malpractice claim against Seattle Children’s Hospital after the baby boy suffered brain damage during heart surgery. The boy’s father Nasir alleges the baby boy suffered a burst blood vessel in the lungs due to the surgeon’s use of a balloon catheter used to expand a narrow heart valve. The resulting damaged blood vessel in the lung caused irreparable brain damage, and the hospital offered a public apology while maintaining that the incident was a known risk of the procedure. Dr. Thomas Jones told the Seattle Times that this risk manifests in about 2% of all similar cases.

Did Malpractice Occur?

Many medical procedures carry significant risks, which is why the concept of informed consent is crucial in modern medicine. Patients have the right to make informed decisions about their health care. When a doctor or other medical professional suggests a particular treatment, the doctor must fully inform the patient of all the associated risks and possible complications so the patient can decide whether the potential benefits of the treatment outweigh the risks.

Ultimately, if the attending physicians did not fully inform Osman Ali’s parents of the risks of the procedure and the baby suffered injuries as a result, malpractice did in fact occur since the attending physicians did not secure true informed consent. However, if the attending physicians fully explained the risk factors, including burst blood vessels during catheterization and the parents agreed to the treatment considering these risks, then malpractice did not occur since it was a known, possible, and accepted risk.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for parents in such a situation to secure straight answers from a hospital. Hospitals are notoriously slow to investigate mistakes and errors along these lines, and some patients must wade through years’ worth of bureaucratic red tape until they find closure. A medical malpractice claim is often their only option for securing the money they need to care for a child who develops cerebral palsy due to medical negligence.

Effects of Brain Damage After Birth

Children develop cerebral palsy from brain damage. The damage often occurs during delivery due to oxygen deprivation or excessive force, but there are other possible causes as well. The leading causes of post-birth cerebral palsy are motor vehicle accidents and falls; any type of traumatic brain injury to a newborn can potentially cause cerebral palsy.

Brain damage can also occur from oxygen deprivation. In the case of baby Osman Ali, the burst blood vessel in the baby’s lung caused oxygen deprivation and consequently brain damage. Any interruptions in normal blood flow have the potential to cause devastating effects. It is unclear how extensive the damage was for Osman.

Brain damage can cause a host of symptoms, and treating cerebral palsy requires an individualized treatment plan that addresses a child’s known symptoms and potential for future complications. Some children who suffer from cerebral palsy only experience relatively mild symptoms such as limited range of motion or slightly delayed intellectual development. They may develop slower than their peers in some areas for the first few years of life but can often bridge these gaps with consistent therapies and effective treatment.

Symptoms can be more severe in other cases of cerebral palsy. Some of the most common musculoskeletal symptoms include muscle spasms, tonicity, improper muscle and joint development, diminished bone density, and difficulty with movement of the limbs. Other symptoms may include sensory problems, cognitive impairment, and behavioral problems. It is impossible to predict how cerebral palsy will affect a child and the severity of his or her symptoms, so parents must carefully monitor their children and pay close attention to developmental delays and changes in overall health.

Preventing Cerebral Palsy

In most cases, cerebral palsy is preventable with proper monitoring and accounting for changes during a pregnancy. For example, a child may develop cerebral palsy if an attending obstetrician fails to properly monitor the baby’s heart rate during delivery and does not recognize oxygen deprivation before it has a chance to cause brain damage. Proper prenatal care, careful patient monitoring, and proper application of delivery techniques are essential to preventing cerebral palsy.

It is also essential for doctors to carefully explain their reasoning behind a specific course of treatment so patients can make informed decisions. For example, if a doctor notices that a baby’s position inside the mother prevents a safe vaginal birth, the doctor will likely recommend an emergency C-section procedure. If the mother is opposed to a C-section for any reason, the doctor must carefully and accurately convey his or her reasoning, so the mother understands the need for the C-section, acknowledges the risks of continuing without one, and agrees to the procedure. Failure to properly convey the known risks of a suggested procedure or treatment would constitute medical malpractice for an informed consent violation.