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Disabilities May Not Be Seen Until Long After Newborn Surgery

According to a new study, it is believed that some newborns who undergo complex heart surgery will appear fine but develop a disability as they grow older. These disabilities can be both neurological and motor disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. While these complications are considered to be very rare, there is still a potential risk for them to happen.

The study doesn't necessarily point to the complex heart surgery as the cause of the disabilities, however. Instead, it suggests that the lack of sufficient oxygen provided to the body and brain prior to the surgery is likely the cause of the later developing disabilities.

What Does This Mean for Parents?

The study published in Pediatrics is crucial for indicating how important it is for mothers to be given proper testing and screening prior to delivery. This includes prenatal testing to identify if a fetus may have congenital cardiac defects. It also points to how necessary adequate testing a child who has gone through complex heart surgery is. Identifying these early on can help limit the risk of a child developing motor or neurological disabilities later in life.

The study showed that the babies facing the highest risk were those that:

  • Had to undergo multiple surgeries
  • Had higher levels of lactate in their blood (or lower oxygen levels)

While a majority of the disabilities that developed after complex heart surgery in newborns did not appear to be directly related to the surgery itself, the doctor still has a responsibility to monitor the symptoms of a mother and fetus prior to the birth to prepare for surgery or alternative treatment.

The Risks of Newborn Surgery

In many cases, the younger a patient is, the more risk there is involved in surgery. This is especially true for newborns. While newborn surgery is often necessary to correct birth injuries or defects, it can be extremely dangerous and may not always improve the quality of life of a patient. Parents should always be aware of the risks, informed of their options, and prepared ahead of time by their doctor.

When a doctor fails to properly screen a pregnant woman or monitor a fetus' development, it can allow birth defects or injuries to occur. While the doctor may not have always been able to prevent a cardiac defect, they could prepare for how to handle it after birth to minimize risk of further injury.

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