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Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is a rare congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is incompletely developed (hypoplastic). In an unaffected heart, low-oxygen blood is pumped by the right side of the heart to the lungs. It is then oxygenated and pumped back through the left side of the heart to the body where it feeds the tissues.

In a heart with HLHS, parts of the left side of the heart (mitral valve, left ventricle, aortic valve and aorta) may be undeveloped or too small. As oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs, it passes from the left side of the heart through an atrial septal defect into the right side of the heart, instead of being pumped to the body. To make up for this, the right side of the heart is forced to pump blood both to the lungs and to the body, resulting in the body receiving a mixture of low-oxygen and oxygen-rich blood. In order to do this, the right side of the heart usually relies on a ductus arteriosus. Unfortunately, the ductus arteriosus usually closes on its own soon after birth, which will result in the baby’s death, if left untreated.


Painkillers: The use of opioid painkillers just before or during pregnancy has been shown to increase the likelihood of the baby developing heart defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study that linked the development of congenital heart defects, especially a more than doubled risk for hypoplastic left heart syndrome, to prenatal exposure to opioid painkillers including:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone

Anti-depressant: Maternal use of Wellbutrin, a popular anti-depressant, during pregnancy may more than double a baby’s risk of developing hypoplastic left heart syndrome, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The anti-depressants linked to this and other birth defects may include:

Effexor, a similar anti-depressant, is also being researched for possible link to an increased risk of hypoplastic left heart syndrome.


As soon as HLHS is diagnosed, the baby will be put on a drug called prostaglandin E1 to keep the ductus arteriosus open. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome always requires surgery to correct, beginning with the Norwood operation a few days after birth. After this procedure, the baby can go home, remaining on daily medications and being closely monitored by a pediatric heart doctor.

Another operation called the Glenn shunt or hemi-Fontan procedure is then performed when the baby is about four to six months old. Finally, a third surgery will be performed called the Fontan procedure when the child is 18 months to 3 years old. Some patients will require more operations in their 20s and 30s if they develop complications.

Some hospitals will choose heart transplantation over the three-step procedure. This is only an option if an infant’s heart has been donated, and these are rarely available.

Your Baby’s Rights

If your baby was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome that may have been caused by exposure to prescription drugs before birth, your family deserves financial compensation. Although no amount of money will change what happened to your baby, compensation will help offset the current and future medical costs, as well as provide for the pain and suffering you and your baby have experienced. Filing a claim will also teach the manufacturers of unsafe pharmaceuticals that it is unacceptable to not warn parents of the risks associated with these drugs, including serious birth defects. Your suit may even prevent other families from suffering as yours has, by forcing the pharmaceutical company to change their drug’s label to warn parents of the potential risks.

Contact Us

You may be eligible for compensation to ease the financial burdens associated with your baby’s injury. Contact us today to set up a free consultation, during which we will listen to your story, answer any questions you may have and discuss your legal rights and options. If you choose us to represent you, we will work with you on a contingency fee basis; this means you pay nothing until we have secured compensation for you, either through a jury verdict or settlement.

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