Every parent hopes to welcome a healthy baby into the world, but when complications arise during pregnancy or delivery, it can quickly become a parent’s worst nightmare. Premature birth is a common complication of pregnancy, and babies born prematurely will be at risk for many other potential injuries.
The reasons why a child might be born prematurely are numerous, but all premature babies may be at risk for complications like breathing problems, heart problems, and vision issues.
Retinopathy of prematurity in such disorder that could affect infants born prematurely. Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a vision disorder that can cause blindness, and the smaller a baby is when it’s born, the more likely it is to develop the disorder. The disorder can also put infants at increased risk for further complications later in life.
Infants are considered premature when they are born three weeks before their due date or earlier. There are a host of reasons why babies might be born early, but some mothers may have certain risk factors that put them at increased risk for delivering prematurely.
If a baby is born prematurely because of negligence on the part of a doctor or healthcare provider, the family may wish to file a birth injury lawsuit holding the negligent party responsible. Such lawsuits may be the only way families can seek compensation for lost wages, hospital stays, and continued medical care for their injured child.
If you believe your child’s injuries were potentially caused by a negligent healthcare provider, it is essential to speak with an experienced Maryland attorney about your options for retinopathy of prematurity lawsuit. Lawyers who are experienced in these types of medical malpractice claims can help you determine whether you have a claim and will help you in every step of the litigation process.
About Retinopathy of Prematurity
Retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, is a disorder of the eye that affects premature infants with low birth weights. ROP usually affects babies who are born weighing about 2.75 pounds or less, and who are born before 31 weeks of gestation. A pregnancy that is considered full-term has a gestation period of about 38 to 42 weeks. The smaller a baby is when it is born, the more likely it is to develop ROP.
ROP is one of the most common causes of vision loss in children and can lead to lifelong visual impairment and even blindness. The disorder causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina, which can eventually lead to blindness in some children with severe ROP. The retina is the inner layer of the eye that receives light and turns it into visual messages which are then sent to the brain. In babies born prematurely, the retinal blood vessels may grow abnormally causing ROP.
There are an estimated 14,000 to 16,000 infants affected by ROP to some degree each year. About 90 percent of these infants, however, have milder cases of ROP that do not require additional treatment. Mild cases of ROP typically do not cause permanent damage and improves on its own in time.
Babies with more severe cases of ROP, on the other hand, can develop severe impairments and vision loss. About 1,100 to 1,500 babies develop severe ROP each year and require medical treatment. Of those infants, about 400 to 600 become legally blind because of their ROP.
The most critical factors for developing severe ROP are birth weight and gestational age. Other factors may include anemia, poor weight gain, blood transfusion, respiratory distress, breathing difficulties, and the overall health of the infant.
Retinopathy of Prematurity Stages
Because ROP affects infants to different degrees, doctors classify the disorder in stages ranging from mild to severe. To determine the best treatment options necessary, doctors classify ROP in five stages.
Of the five stages used to classify ROP severity, the first stage—stage I—is the least mild, with stage V being the most severe. The following are used to classify ROP in infants:
Stage I – Stage I is characterized by mildly abnormal retinal blood vessel growth. A lot of children with stage I ROP improve with no treatment, and eventually develop normal vision.
Stage II – Stage II is characterized by moderately abnormal blood vessel growth. Many children with stage II ROP improve without treatment and eventually develop normal vision.
Stage III – Stage III is characterized by 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 babies with stage III ROP improve without treatment and eventually develop a normal vision; however, if the disorder has progressed further, treatment may be necessary to prevent the retina from detaching from the eye.
Stage IV – Stage IV is characterized by a partially detached retina when the abnormal vessels pull the retina away from the eye.
Stage V – Stage V is characterized by a completely detached retina and is a signal that the disease is at the end-stage. If the eye is left alone at this stage, the baby may suffer severe visual impairment or blindness.
Retinopathy of Prematurity Symptoms
Ophthalmologists, or eye doctors, that are experienced in evaluating infants can help diagnose ROP. Doctors perform an eye exam using drops to dilate the pupils and evaluate the eye paying close attention to the signs and symptoms of ROP.
In determining whether or not a newborn has developed the disorder, doctors look for indicators of ROP and other health information. The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus indicates the first stage of ROP is a demarcation line that separates normal from the premature retina. The second stage presents as a ridge, and the third stage is the growth of fragile new abnormal blood vessels.
Treating Retinopathy of Prematurity
Doctors typically treat ROP with laser therapy or cryotherapy. Laser treatments burn away the area around the retina where there are no normal vessels. Cryotherapy, on the other hand, uses instruments at freezing temperatures around the periphery of the retina.
Both treatments slow or reverse the growth of abnormal vessels by destroying the periphery of the retina. Some side vision is damaged as a result of these treatments, but they save the most critical part of sight, the central vision we use for everyday activities, including reading and driving.
Infants with ROP in the advanced stages may receive these treatments, which are considered invasive surgeries. It is difficult to predict the long-term side effects of each treatment option.
Call KBA Attorneys if your child suffered retinopathy of prematurity in Maryland.
- National Eye Institute. “Facts About Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018: https://nei.nih.gov/health/rop/rop Kids Health. “Surgeries and Procedures: Retinopathy of Prematurity.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/rop.html American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
- “Retinopathy of Prematurity.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018: https://aapos.org/terms/conditions/94 MayoClinic. “Premature Birth.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-birth/symptoms-causes/syc-20376730