Last year, an Oklahoma woman had no reason to wonder what a brachial plexus might be, let alone that injuring it might lead to a serious disability. She only learned about this anatomical feature because complications arose during the birth of her daughter.
The term “brachial plexus” refers to twin bundles of nerves that begin at the spine near the neck and then pass through the muscles of the upper chest to about the armpit. These nerves transmit both sensation and muscular impulses to most of the arm and hand.
When the Oklahoma woman was giving birth, her baby became wedged, with the umbilical cord wrapped around the arm and head, against her pelvic bone. There was no way to proceed except an emergency c-section or by pulling the baby free using forceps.
While the woman credits her doctor’s quick action with saving her daughter’s life, the forceps injured the infant’s brachial plexus, causing a disabling condition called Erb’s palsy.
At 8 months, the child underwent surgery to graft cadaver nerves into her shoulder. At 14 months she still couldn’t turn her palm upwards or reach into a back pocket. Two weeks ago, she was fitted with a brace to help straighten her arm, and more surgeries may be if she is to achieve full mobility in her arm. She needs weekly physical therapy to fight the atrophied muscles characteristic of Erb’s palsy.
Her family, however, prefers to focus on what the toddler is able to do, not what disabilities may remain in her future. “She can pull things down, she can try to climb, she can lift really heavy things. That’s awesome for a brachial plexus kid,” her mom told reporters recently.
Her mother, who found a great deal of support through the nonprofit United Brachial Plexus Network, Inc., is now committed to promoting Erb’s palsy awareness.
Birth injuries are traumatic for families and can result in lifelong disabilities. Although no one has said so in this case, Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus injuries are sometimes the result of medical mistakes. If your child has suffered an injury from the use of forceps and you suspect it should have been prevented, you should consider asking an attorney to evaluate your case.
Source: Fox23.com, “Owasso mother raising awareness after child’s birth injury,” Michelle Linn, Sept. 23, 2013