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Jeff Brody
Litigators Inc.

Kernicterus

Jaundice, a common condition in most newborns, occurs when the chemical bilirubin builds up in the baby’s blood causing yellow pigmentation of the skin and eyes. A low level of bilirubin may also constitute jaundice, but is not an often cause for serious concern and usually goes away on its own. However, if severe jaundice is left untreated, high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage to the newborn called kernicterus.

Kernicterus is a form of brain damage, which causes life-long problems including athetoid cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and hearing loss. Kernicterus can also impair vision and cause teeth problems.

There are several warning symptoms of kernicterus, which may include very yellow or orange tinted skin, a high-pitched cry, increased sleepiness, respiratory distress, difficulty sucking or nursing, weakness and limpness, and increased arching of the head and body.

Newborn babies should be assessed for jaundice every eight to twelve hours in the first two days of life and again before five days of age. While kernicterus is curable if detected, treatment after five days is usually unsuccessful.

Experts estimate that almost 60 percent of all newborns will develop some level of jaundice. Many medical professionals underestimate the seriousness and frequency of kernicterus that develops from high levels of bilirubin. Visually assessing newborns is no longer enough to determine the severity of jaundice.

The Center for Disease Control and the Join Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organization have issued alerts in the last few years to all accredited hospitals and public health professionals in the U.S. warning them that all healthy infants carry the risk of kernicterus if their jaundice is not adequately monitored and treated.

Data released last year by the Hospital Corporation of America found that a simple $1 test could detect severe jaundice and prevent irreparable brain damage in newborns. However, the majority of hospitals still do not screen for jaundice. It is imperative that your newborn is tested for jaundice before he/she leaves the hospital in order to prevent kernicterus. Your baby’s doctor can and should screen the levels of bilirubin in your baby’s blood.

In the event that your newborn has high levels of bilirubin in the blood, there are treatments to prevent the onset of kernicterus. If a baby has jaundice, they can be treated with phototherapy, which is a special blue light therapy that lowers the levels of bilirubin. In cases where the baby has severe jaundice, a doctor can do a blood exchange transfusion. If the jaundice is not detected or treated in time, the results of kernicterus can be permanent.

If your child suffered from kernicterus or cerebral palsy due to a medical professional’s failure to adequately screen and treat your baby’s jaundice, you may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Due to the complex nature of these claims, it is important to seek the help of an experienced attorney who is familiar with medical malpractice cases and can help protect your legal interests. Contact us today to learn more information about kernicterus or to speak with a qualified cerebral palsy lawyer who will evaluate your case free of charge.

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