Expensive therapies and services make up an uncertain future for victims
Injuries to the brain are very often long-term, debilitating injuries. That's been generally known for a long time. But there is still much we don't know about the brain and about the effects trauma can have on a victim's life. Medical research is learning more every day, and in recent years, much of that research has focused on the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland, often called the "master gland," sends hormones that regulate organ function throughout the body. Recent studies have shown that between 30 and 50 percent of traumatic brain injuries involve damage to the pituitary, and even more conservative estimates put the minimum figure at about 20 percent. Given that there are millions of known brain injuries in this country every year - to say nothing of injuries that go undiagnosed - that means hundreds of thousands of people may be living with some degree of pituitary dysfunction.
Depending on the nature of the damage, the effects can be severe
When the pituitary gland is damaged in an accident, the damage usually involves stretching or tearing of the smaller blood vessels, called capillaries, that supply blood to the lateral "wings" of the gland. Without that blood supply, those portions of the pituitary gland may become necrotic and cease functioning, which means certain hormones are not produced.
Most commonly, that means the victim suffers a deficiency of growth hormone. The symptoms of a lack of growth hormone are numerous and can be difficult to identify. They include fatigue, difficulty exercising, loss of motivation and memory and concentration problems. Victims of pituitary damage may also experience feelings of isolation and mood changes. They may become irritable or withdrawn. A lack of growth hormone can also lead to loss of bone or muscle mass and cardiovascular health issues.
Damage to the pituitary can also interfere with the function of other organs. For instance, if the portion of the pituitary that produces human growth hormone is damaged, the victim may develop a variety of problems, such as weight gain, stunted growth and long-term cardiac risks. Likewise, a male victim's testes may cease to produce testosterone, leading to a loss of sexual function and sterility.
The long-term costs of a pituitary injury are nearly always significant
The treatment for most symptoms of pituitary dysfunction is hormone replacement therapy; since the body can no longer produce these important hormones, they need to be supplied artificially instead. This can be a substantial long-term cost. For instance, treatment with human growth hormone (HGH) typically costs between $1,000 and $1,200 monthly, and the patient will need such therapy until reaching age 60. A 30-year-old victim would need this monthly therapy for three decades, at a total cost of as much as $432,000.
Those medical expenses are just one portion of the long-term cost of an injury causing pituitary dysfunction. Symptoms such as fatigue, mood changes and difficulty concentrating may make it difficult or impossible for the victim to do his or her job, which can mean thousands of dollars in lost earnings. And there are the more subjective but no less real costs of some other symptoms of pituitary injury, such as the case of a victim who planned to have children but is now sterile. In some cases, the victim's spouse or other loved ones may be able to claim loss of consortium damages - that is, compensation for the loss of companionship, care and intimacy that the victim can no longer provide due to his or her injuries.
The high cost of a pituitary injury is one of the reasons why victims need to seek out experienced legal counsel. Rarely will an insurance company offer a settlement that reaches or even approaches the six- or seven-figure long-term cost of pituitary dysfunction. We routinely review medical records, help our clients get testing to confirm the presence of pituitary damage, and confer with economic and financial experts to get a clear picture of just how much a pituitary injury will cost. Moreover, we seek to understand our clients' stories, to learn how their injuries have affected their lives - and to make the case in negotiations or at trial to get full compensation for all of those losses. Building these cases requires a clear understanding of the medical nature of pituitary dysfunction, as well as thorough research and dedication at every step of the process.