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Doctor gets mildest discipline possible for birth injury

Obstetricians go through a lot to get their license to practice professionally. They also tend to earn a lot of money as a result of their special training. But attorneys in Maryland with experience in birth injury law know that's no guarantee that mistakes won't occur during the delivery of a newborn. Babies who suffer trauma during birth may live with the damage for their entire lives, as will their families.

The medical community does take steps to police its own in many instances. That's what medical boards are for. But sometimes the punishment is minimal. The process can literally take years. And often the public is never told of action taken, which means doctors of questionable ability continue to practice, leaving unsuspecting patients at risk.

A recent case in another state is what brings this all to mind. The actual incident sparking the case occurred in January 2006. A 33-year-old woman expecting her first child had been in labor for more than four hours when a change of shift brought in a new doctor. In the course of the labor the woman received an epidural for pain, causing a deceleration in the fetus' heart rate. Every time she pushed, the heart rate would fall.

Three times the doctor tried a vacuum delivery. The baby was finally delivered a little over an hour after the last vacuum attempt. By then the infant had suffered a deprivation of oxygen and has since displayed significant developmental delay. State officials investigating the case determined that the doctor should have performed a cesarean section much sooner after the third failed vacuum effort.

Accusations of negligence eventually surfaced in 2010. The state medical board issued a reprimand, the lightest discipline possible. It didn't take effect until April of this year. The findings, though, have been posted on the board's website.

We consider the publicity around this case to be justified. But we find the reporting to be sadly lacking. Critical information that could be helpful to families who suffer birth injury was absent. For example, what was the nature of the child's developmental delay? Did the family ever have the assistance of qualified lawyers in pursuing avenues to ensure the child will have the necessary care for his or her lifetime? This wasn't conveyed, but should have been.

Source: Mercury News, "Dr. Adwoa Christy reprimanded by state: Baby deprived of oxygen during difficult delivery," Jondi Gumz, Aug. 22, 2011

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