Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that occurs in premature babies. Generally, it is most common in babies who are born prior to 31 weeks and weigh under three pounds.
The disease causes blood vessels to develop abnormally on an infant's retina, which is a tissue in the back of the eye. These abnormal blood vessels can create several issues, including severe vision impairment and even blindness.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), only around 30,000 of the 4 million infants born each year are born before 31 weeks. Around 15,000 of those infants develop ROP. While the majority ROP cases will go away on their own, around 10 percent or 1,500 babies each year will require treatment. Of those babies, around 500 each year will become blind; oftentimes, this is the result of misdiagnosis on behalf of the doctors.
Generally, blood vessels fully attach to the retina in the last 12 weeks of gestation. In premature pregnancies, blood vessels grow abnormally because they are not given the appropriate time to develop. As a result, the blood vessels do not completely attach to the retina, which prohibits the eye from receiving the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function properly. This will often result in retinal detachment.
When doctors detect a baby has ROP, treatments will attempt to remove the abnormal blood vessels or slow their development. These treatments are generally only performed on infants, so it is important that the condition is diagnosed soon after a baby is born. While treatment can help prevent vision impairment or blindness from occurring in babies with ROP, it is an extremely invasive procedure and can sometimes worsen the condition.
It is a doctor's duty to communicate the importance of a treatment plan for babies with ROP. If your baby was diagnosed with ROP and was not properly treated, or if you believe your baby's vision impairment is due to a doctor's misdiagnosis of ROP, consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to determine if you have a valid claim.