Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Failure to Timely Treat Plagiocephaly Leads to Surgery, Disfigurement

 While deformational plagiocephaly in infants is not life-threatening, it can lead to disfigurement detrimental to children's well-being.  See, Diagnosis and management of deformational plagiocephaly.

The current recommendations for the prevention and treatment of infant plagiocephaly is: 1) more parental education is needed to minimize the development and progression of deformational plagiocephaly; 2) mild deformity can be treated with repositioning and physical therapy protocols; and 3) severe deformity is likely to be corrected more quickly and effectively with cranial orthosis (when used during the appropriate period of infancy) than with repositioning and physical therapy. See, Diagnosis and management of deformational plagiocephaly.

In 2008 a verdict was rendered for a child left with permanent deformity due to a failure to diagnose plagiocephaly.  As a result of their newborn's untreated plagiocephaly condition (which prevented conservative treatment), the child's parents brought legal action against the five physicians at the child's pediatrics group. The family was represented by Ronald M. Schiffman.

The child's parents maintained that their child was born with plagiocephaly. At four months of age, one of the physicians noted the disorder and told the parents to alter the way the infant lay in his crib. The parents alleged that the pediatrics group treating the infant did not properly treat the disorder and a window closed for conservative treatment. The parents maintained that instead of repositioning therapy, the child should have been prescribed an orthotic helmet to normalize the shape of the skull.

As a result, the child's condition was not addressed with helmet therapy until ten months but by which time such treatment was futile. Unfortunately, the infant was caused to undergo extensive craniofacial surgery at 13 months of age. He had a second related surgery at six years of age and now has a scar across the top of his skull from the area of the left ear to the right ear. The plaintiff parents contended that the child suffers emotional distress due to the scarring.

The defendants contended that the disorder was not severe in the infant plaintiff's case, that they treated the child appropriately and properly, and maintained that the infant plaintiff had not required the surgeries that were performed.

After several days of trial, the jury found three of the defendant physicians, plus a non-party physician, to be liable and awarded the plaintiff $ 590,000 for past pain and suffering and $ 1,410,000 for 66 years of future pain and suffering.

Such lawsuits can be easily avoided through better parent education and more vigilant examination of infant's skulls during the first few months of life.  Plagiocephaly is a condition that can be easily prevented at little to no cost.  Pediatric offices should make it standard practice to have detailed conversations with parents about plagiocephaly and torticollis shortly after a child is born.  There is really no reason for anything otherwise.

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