Because the brain is responsible for voluntary actions such as controlling muscle movement, it’s no wonder that many people suffer paralysis following a brain injury. The brain is made up of billions of neurons and serves as the center of the nervous system, which is why paralysis can be the result when there is nerve damage in the brain. Although there are many causes of brain damage and paralysis, this article will focus on medical malpractice as the cause.
Causes of Paralysis Due to Medical Negligence
- Labor and delivery errors. When obstetricians fail to provide adequate care to their patients, it is possible that an infant may suffer from cerebral palsy, which can lead to paralysis. Anytime there is a lack of oxygen to the brain during labor and delivery, when maternal infections aren’t treated properly, when forceps and vacuum extractors are used incorrectly or with too much force, or when severe jaundice in an infant is left untreated, damage to the brain can occur that results in some type of paralysis.
- Surgical errors. When a doctor makes a critical mistake during surgery, operates on the wrong part of the brain, or fails to make sure a patient is receiving adequate oxygen, brain damage can occur that can lead to paralysis. Likewise, when an anesthesiologist fails to monitor oxygen levels, fails to give a patient the correct anesthesia, or makes a critical error during intubation (the process of inserting a tube into the airway prior to surgery), a patient can suffer damage to the brain which may result in paralysis.
Paralysis can affect a certain muscle or the entire body. Here are some different ways paralysis can affect the body following trauma to the brain:
- Temporary paralysis. When there is a loss of muscle function in part of a person's body that can last a few minutes or several months. The degree of paralysis and loss of function may vary from person to person.
- Partial paralysis. When a closed head injury occurs, it can disrupt bodily functions due to an interruption in nerve pathways – reducing the brain’s ability to control certain muscle movements. Consequently, a limb or part of the body may suffer from a loss of strength, but there is not a total loss of function. For example, a person may have some sensation in a part of the body that can’t be moved.
- Complete paralysis. When no feeling or movement in part of the body occurs, it is considered complete permanent paralysis. This means there is complete loss of sensation and muscle function in a certain limb.
While the above categories refer to how long the paralysis will last, there are also designations for how much of the body is affected, as follows:
- Monoplegia. This type of paralysis affects one limb. This type of paralysis is considered partial paralysis since it is often temporary if the nerves aren’t fully severed. A person with monoplegia cannot feel or move the affected limb, but he or she does have control over the rest of the body.
- Hemiplegia. As with monoplegia, the most common cause of this type of paralysis is cerebral palsy. With hemiplegia, one side of the body is paralyzed (i.e. a leg and arm on the same side of the body may lose function.) This is caused by damage to one side of the brain.
- Paraplegia. This type of paralysis affects the trunk and both legs. Paraplegics cannot walk or feel anything below the waist. While the main cause of this type of paralysis is the result of a spinal cord injury, paraplegia can also occur due to oxygen deprivation during surgery as a result of medical negligence.
- Quadriplegia. All four limbs and the trunk are affected. Also referred to as tetraplegia, a person with this type of paralysis is unable to move anything below the neck. Although spinal cord injuries are the common cause of this form of paralysis, anesthesia-related accidents can also lead to quadriplegia.
Whether paralysis occurred as a result of a brain injury at birth or due to a surgical or anesthesia error, it is critical to hold the negligent parties responsible through a medical malpractice claim. To learn more about your rights, request a free copy of our book, Do I Have a Case? A Patient’s Guide to Virginia Medical Negligence Law. If you have questions or would like a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, please call our office today at (703) 591-0067.