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Cooley Dickinson Hospital Doctors Sued Over Child’s Cerebral Palsy

infant in NICUA South Hadley couple is suing two Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) doctors over an alleged botched birth that left their daughter with cerebral palsy. They filed the lawsuit last month in the Hampshire Superior Court. According to the complaint, CDH’s doctors, Jay Sprong and Lisa Stephens, neglected to explain the risks of a vaginal birth after a prior c-section (VBAC).

The baby’s mother was admitted to CDH on June 19, 2013. She alleges that when her water broke, one of the doctors told her she could continue with a vaginal birth. The baby, however, showed signs of distress with her heart rate dropping as low as 50 beats per minute. The lawsuit alleges that at that point, the doctors should have called for a Cesarean delivery.

The court papers allege that the mother’s uterus ruptured and the baby girl was found “floating in a blood-filled abdominal cavity.” This, allegedly, is because the doctors overlook the signs that the baby was in distress.

HIE leads to permanent brain damage

In an attempt to minimize damage, the baby was transferred to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield for chilling known as therapeutic hypothermia. Drastically lowering a distressed baby’s body temperature can reduce damage to the brain and, in some cases, prevent permanent damage. According to doctors at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, which has taken strides to improve outcomes for babies suffering oxygen deprivation at birth, cooling blanket therapy can reduce the risk of serious injury by 35 percent.

After treatment at Baystate, the baby was moved to Tufts Medical Center in Boston to treat potassium deficiency, high blood glucose, and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a dangerous condition caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. HIE is a rare but serious – at times, even fatal – condition caused by oxygen deprivation at delivery. HIE claims the life of nearly one in every five affected infants during their first six weeks. Another 25% are left with permanent complications like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or cognitive disabilities.

The consequences of HIE-related injuries can be long-term and expensive. Victims of moderate or severe oxygen deprivation can accumulate crushing medical expenses and require special adaptations for daily living.

Alleged hospital negligence

Unfortunately, the recent birth injury lawsuit is not the only report of injury out of CDH. The hospital has been hit with several medical malpractice suits in recent years, prompting a state investigation.

Between 2012 and 2014, the hospital had at least five other serious incidents including three that were fatal; two resulted in the deaths of infants. The third fatality occurred just six months after the plaintiff’s daughter was born; a 32-year-old woman named Pamela Sampson died on December 30, 2013, after undergoing a C-section at the hospital. Her family’s lawsuit alleged that CDH staff did not notice for more than 10 hours that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage. After the Department of Public Health investigation, CDH adopted procedures to improve communication and training in its Childbirth Center and prevent staff fatigue.