Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Brachial Plexus Injuries

I have a friend who gave birth to a child with broad shoulders and the baby got semi-stuck. Rather than call for help or ask for back-up, the doctor pulled so hard on the baby he ended up with a form of hemi-paralysis. His spinal chord was crushed on one side. Thank God babies are resilient. He had to be trached and have a feeding tube because his diaphragm wouldn't work and he couldn't swallow or breath, but over the years he's made slow and steady progress. He is now nine, but still with coordination problems and other developmental delays. All this happened because of a very ignorant obstetrician.

I read this article about an Iraqi child who suffered a brachial plexus injury that causes Erb's Palsy--no nerve supply causes the arm and hand to wither--who came to Houston this week to have surgery to fix it. That's notable enough. An American doctor, Dr. Rahul Nath (the only one of fifteen doctors who responded to this family's plea for help) performing this surgery as a service to an Iraqi family. But this is what jumped out at me:

About two of every 1,000 children born in the U.S. have brachial plexus birth injuries, more than the number affected by Down's Syndrome or Muscular Dystrophy. The numbers are higher in developing countries.
This condition is almost wholly preventable. With the increase of cesarean sections, the skills needed to handle complicated vaginal births has declined. So when a child is born with big shoulders, or comes down the birth canal in weird ways, or the baby gets "stuck", the doctor freaks out and yanks and causes severe trauma in the process. It is no small thing to be without the use of a limb for the rest of one's life.

Torticollis is a milder condition, related to brachial plexus injuries, that is caused by either the baby's position in the womb or hypertonia in response to the same kind of birth trauma. This needs intervention right away. Some newborns are very responsive to chiropractic for this and it should be seriously considered as a treatment option.

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