Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a disorder that affects premature babies, and it is among the most common causes of lifelong vision impairment and blindness. Though ROP can be a disabling condition, timely diagnosis and care can save sight and preserve a child’s ability to read, drive, and live a normal life.
Unfortunately, doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who care for newborns may fail to timely diagnose or treat ROP in premature babies. This can lead to delays in needed therapy that come with devastating, life-altering consequences.
At The Becker Law Firm, our Cleveland attorneys represent children and families in complex birth injury cases involving medical professionals who failed to uphold their duty of care – including those who failed to appropriately treat premature infants with ROP.
Why Choose The Becker Law Firm?
- Our birth trauma lawyers have over 100 years’ combined experience and have earned national recognition in birth injury litigation.
- We set the record for the largest personal injury settlement for a single victim in Ohio history.
- We’ve recovered more than $500 million in compensation for clients, and multiple eight-figure settlements for birth injury plaintiffs.
- We leverage the insight of Certified Civil Trial Specialists and attorneys who are Registered Nurses with medical expertise.
If your child has suffered irreparable vision loss due to ROP, our team at The Becker Law Firm is here to help. Call to request a free case evaluation.
What Is Retinopathy of Prematurity?
Retinopathy of Prematurity is a medical condition that affects the tissue at the back of the eye called the retina. The retina is responsible for sensing light and sending signals to the brain, creating what we know as vision.
With ROP, unwanted and excessive blood vessels grow on a premature baby’s retina. These abnormal vessels later tend to leak or bleed, which leads to scarring of the retina. When the scars shrink, they pull on the retina, causing it to detach from the back of the eye. It is the detachment of the retina, a vital part of vision, that ultimately causes blindness.
Anatomy and Risk Factors
The blood vessels in a baby’s eyes begin developing in utero at 3 months, and that development continues through birth. The development is disrupted when a baby is born early—the blood vessels can stop growing or, in severe cases, develop abnormally. Infants born at an early gestational age and low birthweight are at greatest risk for developing ROP.
There are also avoidable and preventable factors that contribute to the severity and progression of ROP, including:
- Prolonged administration of oxygen
- Excessive or high concentrations of oxygen use
- Asphyxia (lack of oxygen)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
- Acidosis (increased acid in the blood)
- Vitamin E deficiency
- Apnea (irregular breathing)
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease
- Low heart rate (bradycardia)
- Blood transfusions
- Low blood oxygen or acidity
- High amounts of carbon dioxide in the blood
Doctors should screen all babies born sooner than 30 weeks or who weigh less than three pounds at birth and should consider screening when these other risk factors are present. Babies with this condition may show signs of crossed eyes, nearsightedness, abnormal eye movements, or whitish pupils.
Premature Birth & ROP
Retinopathy of prematurity affects premature babies weighing approximately three pounds or less and /or babies born before 32 weeks (a full-term pregnancy is 38-42 weeks). While ROP does not always harm vision, it can develop rapidly and result in vision loss or total blindness.
How Should Doctors Diagnose ROP?
Over the years, the medical community has identified protocols for effectively diagnosing and treating ROP. Because there is no way to predict which babies will develop severe ROP, premature newborns, babies who weigh less than 3.5 pounds at birth, or babies whose neonatologists believe them to be high risk should be referred for ROP screening and examination.
Typically, premature babies are screened regularly from birth until the condition is detected, or until normal retinal development is identified.
Under this approach, ROP can be appropriately and quickly diagnosed and proven therapies applied to stop the progression and save a baby’s sight.
Unfortunately, premature babies may not be monitored as carefully as they should be to detect the condition, leading to partial or total vision loss. Sometimes this is the result of inadequate or negligent medical care.
Who’s Responsible For My Child’s ROP?
Determining who can be held at fault for your child’s condition and liable for the resulting damages depends on the facts of your case.
Medical malpractice claims are fact-specific matters, and in-depth investigations will be needed to evaluate whether providers involved in your child’s care (including hospitals, neonatal ICUs, neonatologists, pediatricians, or ophthalmologists) failed to uphold the standard of care, which generally means:
A health care provider, when treating a patient, failed to act as a reasonably skilled and trained health professional in their field of medicine would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.
The standard of care can be different from case to case, but failures to uphold accepted medical standards are generally the result of negligence. In terms of ROP, studies show this may involve:
- Failure to properly diagnose and manage ROP;
- Failure to refer newborns for ROP screening, or follow up with their care;
- Failure to adequately supervise medical residents, PAs, or other providers who provide care under the delegation or supervision of physicians;
- Ophthalmology errors, including failure to diagnose or failure to follow up;
- Improper use of oxygen therapy or overventilation.
What Compensation Can Families Recover?
Children with ROP resulting in partial or total blindness can face a lifetime of considerable limitations. Families as a whole can also experience significant emotional and financial strains created by the need to provide specialized care, accommodations, and support as their child grows and matures with low vision or blindness.
By pursuing medical malpractice claims, families who have suffered as a result of medical negligence can seek financial compensation for their damages. This may include both the economic and non-economic losses arising from their child’s preventable condition, including:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Future costs associated with accommodations, therapy, and low vision / blindness;
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Lost income and lost future wages.
As with many birth injury cases, medical malpractice claims filed over ROP focus largely on the losses babies and families will likely face in the future.
Calculating these future damages requires insight from medical experts who can attest to the severity of a child’s condition, their prognosis, and how it will impact their lives and those of their loved ones. It may also require insight from financial experts who can assist in calculating projected future expenses and other economic losses associated with the child’s condition – especially if it may prevent a child or their parents from working and earning meaningful income.
At The Becker Law Firm, our legal team has extensive experience litigating birth injury cases and calculating victims’ damages, and we have access to highly skilled medical experts and expert witnesses who aid in building the evidence to support an effective claim.
Common ROP Treatments
The degree of injury to a baby typically depends on how prematurely the baby was born. These injuries fall across a spectrum, ranging from nearsightedness to total vision loss.
Babies who face this condition early in life are at a greater risk to eventually develop other eye conditions, including strabismus, glaucoma, cataracts, and myopia.
When retinopathy of prematurity is detected early, treatment can offer a chance for normal vision. Treatments include:
- Oxygen treatment
- Freezing to prevent abnormal blood vessels from spreading (cryotherapy)
- Laser therapy to prevent abnormal blood vessels from spreading (photocoagulation)
- Surgery to repair detached retinas
Babies who are born prematurely should be treated with oxygen, which can stimulate the growth of blood vessels in the eyes.
Call To Request a FREE Consultation: (440) 252-4399
Birth injuries are deeply emotional and troubling experiences for families, and their potential for life-altering consequences is steep. If your child has suffered blindness or severe vision loss from ROP due to what you believe may be substandard medical care, The Becker Law Firm is available to discuss your case, legal rights, and options for seeking the justice and compensation you deserve.
Call or contact us online. Our attorneys serve families across Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and beyond.