When the brain stem gets damaged, critical body functions could be impaired, putting your life at great risk. Even if the injury is not fatal, it could cause debilitating medical problems, such as impaired breathing, poor balance, full-body paralysis and problems controlling behavior.
Below, partner Seth Anderson discusses the causes and effects of brain stem injuries and legal options for victims. If your injury was caused by another’s negligence, you or your loved ones may be able to seek compensation for medical care, disability, lost earning capacity and more.
Anderson & Cummings has recovered more than $100 million on behalf of injured victims. Our Board-Certified Fort Worth personal injury lawyers do not charge upfront costs.
Why the Brain Stem is Critical to the Functioning of Your Body
Your brain stem sits at the base of your skull on top of your spinal cord. The brain stem connects the spinal cord to the brain, allowing the brain to transmit information throughout the body. The brain stem also controls critical bodily functions, like breathing, walking and heart rate. That is why damage to the brain stem can be catastrophic for victims.
The brain stem has three parts:
- Midbrain – This part of the brain stem controls sight, hearing, motor functions, sleep, your ability to remain alert and body temperature.
- Pons – This contains the neural pathways and tracts that transmit signals from other parts of the brain to the medulla and cerebellum.
- Medulla oblongata – This part of the brain stem regulates things like ventilation, your cardiovascular system and the reflexes that cause swallowing, sneezing and coughing.
In short, your body cannot survive unless the brain stem works like it is supposed to.
Accidents That Could Cause Brain Stem Injuries
Brain stem damage is often the result of blunt force trauma to the neck. However, even a seemingly minor blow to the neck could cause a brain stem injury.
Blunt force trauma could occur in many types of accidents, particularly Texas motor vehicle accidents, such as those involving:
- Passenger vehicles (cars, trucks and SUVs)
- Commercial trucks (semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, etc.)
Brain stem injuries could also occur in slip and fall accidents and other premises liability accidents. You could hit your neck if you fall forward or backward, especially if you fall into something else.
Construction accidents are another potential cause of brain stem damage. Workers could fall from high off the ground or get hit by a construction vehicle or construction equipment.
How a Brain Stem Injury Could Affect You
The effects of a brain stem injury will depend on what part of the brain stem are damaged and how severe the damage is. These are some of the medical problems victims may experience:
Your brain stem contains the neurons that make up the reticular activating system. This system controls consciousness and the ability to be awake. If the reticular activating system sustains damage, you could slip into a coma.
Often, a coma that results from a brain injury will resolve as the swelling in your head subsides. However, your chances of making a full recovery will depend on how quickly you move through the stages of a coma. These stages include the vegetative state, when you can only open and shut your eyes; the minimally conscious state, when you can blink but drift into and out of consciousness; and the confusion state when you cannot fully control your behavior.
A brain stem injury could result in various breathing problems, such as a lack of breathing or breathing in too little air. You could also struggle to exhale or breathe too fast. Breathing problems may result from damage to the medulla, affecting your body’s ability to detect the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood.
Impaired Motor Functions
Impaired motor function is often a result of damage to areas of the brain besides the brain stem. However, your brain stem could suffer damage in the same accident.
You could suffer impaired balance and coordination. You may be unable to control your movements, even if movement is possible.
Full Body Paralysis or Locked-In Syndrome
This means you cannot move anything except your eyes. You can still think, hear and reason but you cannot control anything else. Unfortunately, many who are diagnosed with this condition never regain movement.
This is a serious problem, as some victims may be at risk for choking on their saliva. The good news is there are exercises victims can do to regain control of their ability to swallow.
What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Stem Injury?
If you or your loved one experience any of the following symptoms after an accident, they may be the result of a brain stem injury, including:
- Trouble sleeping
- Abnormal sleep schedule
- Struggling to gag or cough
- Struggling to swallow food or fluids
- Loss of vision or visual impairment
- Poor balance
- Slurring words
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual heart rate
- Struggling to control your motor movements
- Interruption of bodily functions
- Jerky eye movements
- Losing reflexes
- Losing your sense of smell
If you or your loved one have experienced any of these symptoms, seek medical treatment right away. While each situation is different, immediate treatment may give you the best chance of making a full recovery.
What Does the Recovery From a Brain Stem Injury Look Like?
Treatment for a brain stem injury could last the rest of the victim’s life, as these injuries can create numerous physical, emotional and psychological problems. The course of treatment is going to depend on the severity of the injury and how the victim responds.
If the victim had a brain stem stroke, doctors need to stop the bleeding or remove the clot. After that, doctors can assess the effects of the injury.
Sometimes doctors need to do surgery to stabilize the injury, which carries the risk of permanent or fatal injury.
If the victim suffers locked-in syndrome, he or she may never recover. This means he or she is going to need round the clock care, as he or she will be unable to do anything without assistance.
Other brain stem injury victims may need a variety of therapies to attempt to regain impaired or lost functions. This could include physical therapy to attempt to regain motor function. If the victim is struggling with speech or swallowing, speech therapy may be necessary.
Mental health counseling may also be needed, as victims may experience changes in behavior. They may also struggle to adjust to their new reality.
Occupational therapy may allow victims to regain the ability to work, albeit in a different job than they had before the injury.
Recovering Compensation for an Injury to the Brain Stem
Victims may be able to recover significant compensation for a brain injury. This may include compensation for the cost of:
- Surgery after the accident
- Extended stay in the hospital
- Hiring a caregiver
- Ongoing medical care (testing, appointments with doctors, etc.)
- Living at a long-term care facility
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Durable medical equipment (wheelchair, powerchair, crutches, cane, braces, etc.)
- Making modifications to your vehicle or your home to accommodate permanent disability
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Mental health counseling
Your lawyer may also be able to seek compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages, like lost companionship and lost enjoyment of life.
If your loved one died in the accident, our lawyers may be able to seek wrongful death compensation for the effects of your loss.
Contact Us to Discuss What to Do After a Personal Injury
If another party caused you or your loved one to suffer a serious injury or lose their life, that party should be held accountable. Victims should also be compensated for the many effects of their injuries, including the financial and emotional toll.
Our firm is ready to assist you with the legal process. We can manage your claim while you and your family focus on medical treatment and the other aspects of your life that have been affected.
No fees unless we win. Call us today: (817) 920-9000.