Serving Families Affected by Necrotizing Enterocolitis

No parent wants to hear that their newborn baby could have a serious illness. The joy and excitement that parents feel when their baby is born can quickly turn to fear and stress if they are told that their baby has a serious disease. One example of a disease that affects newborns is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is a common, serious intestinal disease. It is particularly common in babies who are born premature, although NEC can develop in any baby within two weeks after birth.

While NEC is a serious disease, a full recovery may be possible with prompt medical treatment. The failure to properly diagnose and treat NEC can have fatal consequences. If a child suffers permanent or fatal injuries because a health care provider failed to deliver the necessary treatment, the parents or guardians of the child are urged to contact the Illinois medical malpractice lawyers.

Necrotizing Enterocolitis X-Ray

What is NEC?

NEC is a serious disease that develops when the tissue in the large intestine becomes injured or inflamed. When the wall of the intestine is invaded by bacteria, it can cause a local infection and inflammation that can destroy the lining of the intestine. This can cause the bowel to become perforated, and bacteria can pass into the bloodstream, causing a devastating infection. If immediate treatment is not provided, it could put the baby’s life in danger. While NEC can develop in all newborns, up to 80 percent of NEC cases involve premature babies. According to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, NEC affects between one and five percent of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions.

If the baby shows any symptoms of NEC, it is important for parents to discuss their concerns with a neonatologist to ensure that the baby receives immediate medical treatment. Common signs of NEC include:

  • Abdominal discoloration
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Apnea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Bradycardia
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive issues
  • Green vomit that contains bile
  • Hypotension
  • Lethargic
  • Low or unstable body temperature
  • Poor feeding
  • Vomiting  

What are the Common Risk Factors Associated with NEC?

Some medical experts believe that oxygen deprivation during a difficult delivery could increase the risk of NEC. The following are examples of other factors that experts believe may put babies at an increased risk for NEC:

  • An underdeveloped intestine.
  • Lack of oxygen or blood flow to the intestine during or immediately following birth.
  • Injury to the intestinal lining.
  • Bacterial infection in the intestine that breaks down the intestinal wall.
  • Formula feeding. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of NEC.

In some cases, multiple NEC cases occur in nurseries. While NEC does not spread from one baby to another, a virus or bacteria that can cause NEC can be spread. Nurseries and NICUs must follow very strict precautions when it comes to preventing the spread of potentially life-threatening infections, such as NEC.

How is NEC Diagnosed?

If a newborn shows any of the common symptoms associated with NEC, the doctor will do a physical exam, which will involve touching the baby’s stomach to check for any swelling, pain, or tenderness. In addition, the doctor will likely order a series of tests, including an X-ray to determine whether there is an abnormal gas pattern or if there are signs of air or gas in the large veins of the baby’s liver.

The doctor may also test the baby’s stool for the presence of blood and perform a series of blood tests to measure platelet levels and white blood cell counts. Elevated white blood cells and low platelet levels may be a sign of NEC. In extreme cases, the doctor may need to insert a needle into the infant’s stomach to withdraw fluid to determine if there is a hole in the intestine.

What are the Treatment Options for NEC?

The key to a full recovery from NEC is a timely diagnosis and immediate treatment. Most newborns who have been diagnosed with NEC are treated with medication and other medical interventions. NEC usually resolves without the need for invasive surgery. The following are examples of the recommended course of treatment for NEC:

  • Temporarily stop all feedings.
  • Run a nasogastric tube from the baby’s nose to their stomach to keep the stomach empty.
  • Ensure that the baby receives fluid and nutrition intravenously.
  • Administer antibiotics to prevent or fight infection.
  • Take follow-up X-rays to monitor the condition.
  • If the baby’s abdomen is swollen and it interferes with their ability to breathe, provide extra oxygen or use a breathing machine.
  • Keep the baby isolated in order to prevent the spread of infection.
NEC Treatment

The following treatments may be necessary if the baby has severe NEC:

  • Surgery to remove the damaged intestine or bowel.
  • Surgical procedure that connects the part of the intestine or bowel to an opening on the abdomen, which is called an ostomy.
  • Procedure that involves draining the abdominal or peritoneal cavity.

Are There Health Complications Associated with NEC?

Most babies recover completely from NEC after undergoing the recommended treatment. However, if the baby develops a severe case of NEC or suffers permanent injuries because of medical malpractice, the baby could suffer serious complications. Even if the doctor followed the recommended treatment protocols, some babies have a difficult time fighting an infection. The following are examples of complications of NEC that can occur:

  • A hole in the intestine.
  • The intestine can become scarred, narrowed, or blocked.
  • Inability to absorb food and nutrients properly, particularly if large amounts of the child’s intestine had to be removed.
  • Sepsis, which is a severe infection that affects the whole body.
  • Death.

Can NEC be Prevented?

Studies show that breastfed babies are less likely to develop NEC, so avoiding formula during the baby’s first few weeks may make them less likely to get the disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that a mother’s milk is always preferred over formula. Human milk is associated with improved neurodevelopmental outcomes and decreased sepsis as well as NEC.

According to the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, another strategy that may prevent NEC is the administration of oral probiotics, which researchers believe may create a healthier gut microbiome.

Can NEC be Prevented

What if My Health Care Provider Failed to Diagnose My Child’s NEC?

Health care providers have a duty to identify the symptoms of NEC, diagnose the condition, and provide immediate treatment. A delay in diagnosis, a missed diagnosis, or the failure to follow the recommended treatment protocols can have devastating or even fatal consequences since the infection can spread quickly.

If a baby develops NEC as a result of negligent medical care, the parents may wish to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the health care provider who was responsible for their baby’s health and safety. A dedicated and compassionate lawyer will examine the details of the case, including medical records, tests that were done, and doctor notes. In addition, a lawyer will assist the client with the process of filing and affidavit of merit, which states that the plaintiff has consulted with a health care professional who meets the following requirements:

  • The health care provider understands the medical issues associated with the case.
  • The health care provider currently practices in the same area of medicine that pertains to the case.
  • The health care provider has experience and competence in the subject matter of the lawsuit.

What Damages am I Entitled to in a Medical Malpractice Case?

If a baby develops NEC as a result of medical negligence, the parents may be eligible for financial compensation. The costs associated with health complications related to NEC can accumulate very quickly, particularly if the baby needs surgery or requires long-term care. The following are examples of damages that the family is entitled to in a medical malpractice lawsuit:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation
  • Assistive medical devices
  • Lost income for the parents
  • Expenses associated with long-term care
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Decreased quality of life

If the baby develops a severe case of NEC and is unable to fight the infection, the condition can be fatal. However, if a tragic fatality was the result of negligence, the surviving family may be eligible for wrongful death benefits, which include:

  • Medical expenses incurred prior to the child’s death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Grief counselling

If parents suspect that medical malpractice caused their baby’s NEC, they should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible for legal counsel.

Illinois Medical Malpractice Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC Advocate for Families Affected by NEC

If your baby developed NEC as a result of negligent medical care, it is in your best interest to contact one of our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC. Our dedicated and compassionate legal team understands how devastating it is to see your newborn suffer in any way, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that your rights are protected. For a free, confidential consultation, call us at 618-277-3644 or contact us online. Located in Swansea, Illinois, we serve clients throughout St. Louis, Belleville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Waterloo, Chester, Carbondale, St. Clair County, Madison County, Monroe County, Randolph County, and other regions throughout Southern Illinois.

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