Settlement in a Case Involving the Overventilation of a Prematurely Born Child, Resulting in Cerebral Palsy and Cognitive Disabilities

A little boy was born at approximately 32 weeks gestation at a local area hospital.  The healthcare providers recognized that he was going to need additional medical care best provided at a Level III neonatal intensive care unit, and he was transferred to one nearby.

The plaintiff’s investigation showed that the Illinois Department of Health regulations required that Level III neonatal intensive care units have a neonatologist present at the unit 24 hours a day/seven days a week.  The plaintiff further determined that this Level III NICU only staffed its unit with neonatologists during normal business hours, and the remainder of the time a neonatologist was available on call.  At the times that the neonatologist was not present, the residents and nurses were responsible for the care of the babies in the NICU.

The baby came to the NICU and was evaluated.  The plaintiff’s investigation showed that shortly after he arrived, after normal business hours, the baby began having trouble breathing.  While under the care of the first year resident the little boy required resuscitation and intubation.  A ventilator was set up for the purpose of controlling the oxygen and CO2 levels in the baby’s lungs.  The plaintiff’s investigation showed that unfortunately, the ventilator settings were set to fully oxygenate the baby but also set so too much CO2 was removed.

A baby’s brain requires a certain amount of CO2 in his blood or the blood vessels will constrict, resulting in reduced blood flow in parts of the baby’s developing brain.  With a premature baby at around 32-34 weeks, the brain in the area of the ventricles is particularly sensitive to such reductions in blood flow.  The plaintiff’s investigation showed that by the time of the baby’s treatment the drastic reduction of CO2 during ventilation lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy.

For a period of days, the CO2 level was kept abnormally low for this little boy.  By the time it was recognized and corrected the damage had been done.  The baby suffered developmental disabilities throughout his infancy and was later diagnosed with the impaired muscle development and function recognized as cerebral palsy.

The plaintiff mediated this case in an attempt to settle the case before trial. The hospital settled the case at that mediation after the plaintiff received a favorable ruling from the court on the interpretation of Department of Health regulation.