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Failure to Refer Patient to High Risk Pregnancy Specialist Leads to Death of Baby

A recent Illinois case highlights the perils of pregnancies today and the need for obstetricians to seek out the counsel of high risk specialists (maternal fetal medicine doctors) when an expectant mother has a high risk pregnancy. A pregnancy is often termed "high risk" if mom or baby has an increased risk of developing a health problem. By its very meaning, high risk pregnancies mean that mom's pregnancy should be given special attention and enhanced monitoring for possible health problems. Some of the more common reasons pregnancies are deemed high risk are:

  1. Mom has a health problem like diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure,or kidney disease;
  2. Mom uses alcohol, drugs or smokes during the pregnancy;
  3. Mom is younger than 17 or older than 35;
  4. Mom has had 3 or more miscarriages;
  5. your baby has been found to have a condition like Downs Syndrome or heart/lung/kidney problems;
  6. Mom had a problem in a past pregnancy such as pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia or seizures;
  7. Mom has an infection; or
  8. Mom is taken certain medicines like lithium, Dilantin, valproic acid or Tegretol.

High risk pregnancies generally result in more visits to the doctor than a women who has a non-high risk pregnancy, more ultrasound test to make sure the baby is growing well and regular blood pressure/urine studies. More importantly, obstetricians will usually refer high risk pregnancies to specialists (high risk doctors who are familiar with the type of issue confronting the pregnancy) for these tests and monitoring.

In the Illinois case, the mother had a long history of miscarriages. During her pregnancy, an early ultrasound showed placental previa and and abnormal placement of the placenta. Placental previa is a problem in which the placenta blocks the cervix. Normally, it is attached high up in the uterus away from the cervix. If the placenta remains there during labor and delivery, it can cause problems for both mom and baby. For example, the placenta could separate too early from the wall of the uterus (placental abruption) and cause serious bleeding; the baby may be born too early, the baby may have a low birth weight or have a birth defect. Despite this early ultrasound finding, the woman's obstetrician never referred her to a high risk specialist. At 40 weeks gestation, the mother suffered a placental abruption. She called her doctor and went to the hospital, but the obstetrician did not timely show up to the hospital. Ultimately, the baby was born in a depressed condition requiring a blood transfusion. The obstetrician, however, negligently informed the hospital that the baby could not receive the transfusion because she was the child of Jehovah's Witnesses. In fact, the baby could have received a transfusion because the father was not a Jehovah's Witness. After 8 days, the baby died. The mother brought suit alleging that the doctor was negligent in failing to refer her to a specialist during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, negligent in failing to deliver the baby earlier due to the risk of placental abruption and failing to perform a cesarean section upon arrival to the hospital.

The Case Confidentially Settled

At STSW, our lawyers routinely handle negligence cases involving the failure to refer a pregnancy to a high risk specialist, as well as cases involving serious birth injuries or death occasioned by the failure to timely deliver a baby. If you or a loved one have been injured in such a manner, call our lawyers at STSW for a free consultation (410) 385-2225.

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