Retinopathy of Prematurity Lawsuit

A parent’s greatest wish is to welcome a healthy baby into the world. When there are complications during pregnancy or childbirth, it can quickly become a parent’s worst nightmare. One of the most common complications of pregnancy is the premature birth of the baby.

The reasons for children being born prematurely are numerous, but all premature babies may be at increased risk for specific injuries. These injuries can include breathing problems, heart problems, and vision issues.

Retinopathy of Prematurity from Birth Injury

One disorder that can affect infants born prematurely is a vision disorder called retinopathy of prematurity. The disorder can cause blindness, and the smaller babies are when they are born, the more likely they are to develop the disorder. Retinopathy of prematurity can also put infants at higher risk for additional complications later in life.

Babies are considered premature when they are born three weeks before their due date or earlier. There are many reasons why a baby might be born early. Some mothers may have certain risk factors that put them at increased risk for premature delivery, as well.

When a baby is born prematurely due to negligence on the part of a health care provider, the family may feel compelled to pursue a lawsuit to hold the negligent party responsible. Lawsuits may be the only way families can seek damages for ongoing medical care for their injured child, or for lost wages and hospital stays.

If you suspect your child’s injuries may have been caused by the negligence of a health care provider, it is essential to speak to an experienced attorney to explore your options. A lawyer experienced in these types of malpractice lawsuits can help you determine whether you may have a claim and can help explain every step of the litigation process.

What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disorder that affects premature infants with low birth weights. The disorder typically affects babies who are born weighing about 2.75 pounds or less and who are born before 31 weeks of gestation. Full-Term pregnancy has a gestation period of 38 to 42 weeks. The smaller a baby is born, the more likely they are to develop ROP. It is one of the most common causes of vision loss in children and can lead to lifelong visual impairment, even blindness.

ROP causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina. It is these abnormal vessels that can cause blindness in some children with ROP. It is estimated that about 14,000 to 16,000 infants are affected by ROP to some degree. However, about 90 percent of those infants have milder cases of ROP that do not require treatment. Mild cases of ROP usually don’t cause permanent damage, and the disorder improves on its own in time.

The retina is the inner layer of the eye that receives light and turns that light into visual messages that are sent to the brain. The retinal blood vessels may grow abnormally causing ROP in babies born prematurely.

Infants with more severe cases, on the other hand, can develop severe impairments and vision loss. Each year, about 1,100 to 1,500 babies develop ROP that is severe enough to require medical treatment and about 400 to 600 of those babies become legally blind because of ROP.

Birth weight and gestational age are the most critical risk factors for developing severe ROP. Other factors can include anemia, poor weight gain, blood transfusion, respiratory distress, breathing difficulties, and the overall health of the infant.

Retinopathy of Prematurity Stages

Since the severity of ROP can vary, doctors classify it in different stages, ranging from mild to severe. To determine the severity of the disorder and decide which treatment options are necessary, doctors classify retinopathy of prematurity in five stages.

There are five different stages used to classify the severity of the disorder in infants with ROP—the first stage, stage I, being the mildest form and stage V being the most severe. The following stages are used to classify ROP:

Stage I - mildly abnormal retinal blood vessel growth; many children with stage I ROP improve with no treatment and eventually develop normal vision.

Stage II - moderately abnormal blood vessel growth; many children with stage II ROP improve with no treatment and eventually develop normal vision.

Stage III - severely abnormal blood vessel growth; the abnormal blood vessels grow toward the center of the eye instead of following normal growth patterns along the surface of the retina. Some infants with stage III improve with no treatment and eventually develop normal vision; however, if there are symptoms that the disorder has progressed further, treatment may be considered to prevent the retina from detaching from the eye.

Stage IV - partially detached retina; the abnormal vessels pull the retina away from the eye.

Stage V - completely detached retina and a signal that the disease is at the end-stage; if the eye is left alone at this stage, the baby may have a severe visual impairment or be blind.

Retinopathy of Prematurity Symptoms

Eye doctors, ophthalmologists, who are experienced in evaluating infants can make the diagnosis of ROP. Using drops to dilate the pupils, doctors perform an eye exam and evaluate the eye, paying close attention to specific signs and symptoms of ROP and other health information.

When determining whether a newborn has developed ROP, doctors look for several indicators. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, the first stage is a demarcation line that separates normal from the premature retina. The second stage presents as a ridge, and the third stage is a growth of fragile new abnormal blood vessels.
Treatment of Retinopathy of Prematurity
ROP is usually treated with laser therapy or cryotherapy. Laser treatments burn away the periphery of the retina where there are no normal blood vessels. Cryotherapy involves touching freezing instruments to the areas of the eye that overlie the periphery of the retina.

Both kinds of treatments slow or reverse the growth of abnormal vessels by destroying the outside areas of the retina. These treatments destroy some side vision but save the most critical part of our sight: the central vision we use for activities like reading and driving.

These treatments are only performed on infants with advanced stages of ROP. They are considered invasive surgeries, and it is difficult to tell the long-term side effects of each.