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Failure to diagnose pediatric stroke puts kids at risk

Photo of Drew Britcher

Kids are not adults in smaller bodies. Teenagers, in particular, may seem to be physically big enough to be viewed with an adult lens. When it comes to the treatment of a stroke, however, the inability to recognize their unique needs can constitute medical malpractice.

Last week, ABC News ran a riveting story that illustrates the risks of failure to diagnose stroke in teenagers. The boy involved was from Ohio, but the same types of risks he faced apply to New Jersey teenagers as well.

The boy in question was active 15-year-old who played rugby. One morning in April 2012, he woke up wracked with intense pain in his head. He was also vomiting profusely.

At the emergency room, doctors wrongly thought he merely had a severe migraine and delayed treatment for over 24 hours. Finally his mother demanded that he be transferred. The boy was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors determined that he had suffered a stroke.

By then, it was necessary to remove part of his skull to relieve intense pressure from severe swelling in his brain. The boy also suffered a second stroke. The second stroke resulted in loss of the ability to speak and to move his limbs.

Nearly a year later, the boy has undergone grueling physical therapy sessions, seeking to recover from the two strokes. He has regained the ability to speak and use his limbs. Though he still has some cognitive deficits and problems with balance, he considers himself very lucky.

Many other children, however, are not so lucky. Indeed, about 3,000 children a year suffer strokes. It is among the 10 leading causes of death for children.

Most children who suffer strokes do live. But many of them face ongoing challenges due to brain damage or other neurological impairments. Many of them become disabled. And all of them are at elevated risk of future strokes.

Source: "Pediatric Stroke Often Misdiagnosed, Treatment Delayed," ABC News, Susan Donaldson James, 2-11-13

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