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Does My Child Have a Kernicterus Claim?

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Infants May Suffer Extreme Complications, Permanent Neurological Impairments, and Possibly Death when Kernicterus Occurs.

Annually, 60% and 80% of newborns develop jaundice, characterized by yellowish skin and eyes. Full-term babies fall on the lower end of the range, and premature babies on the higher. Typically, mild jaundice is not problematic and resolves on its own. However, a more dangerous jaundice can threaten a baby’s life. Kernicterus or brain damage develops in newborns from excessive bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is the yellow byproduct of red blood cell breakdown. Too much of the substance entering the bloodstream damages the brain. For this reason, physicians must know the difference between mild jaundice and signs of possible Kernicterus, as early detection and treatment is critical to avoid the tragic outcome of severe jaundice and Kernicterus.

Fundamentals of Kernicterus

Kernicterus is the term for brain damage that occurs when a newborn has hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice, when bilirubin levels are too high and seep into the brain. Bilirubin travels in the bloodstream after the liver breaks down red blood cells so that neurological and intellectual damage results when it reaches the brain. An infant unable to flush the broken-down red blood cells quickly enough build up bilirubin due to an underdeveloped liver, especially in cases of prematurity. Other causes may be an abnormal liver, breast milk that promotes bilirubin production, bruising, infections, genetic problems, hypothyroidism, and intestinal blockages.

Be Aware of the Signs of Kernicterus

Signs of severe jaundice in infants, besides the yellowing of the skin and eyes, are lethargy, difficulty rousing from sleep, fussiness, strange eye movements, and feeding difficulty. Their bodies may be limp and lethargic initially, but as the condition lasts, they begin to squeal, arch their backs, and stiffen their bodies. In later stages, the baby may seem unconscious and unresponsive. When a parent brings their newborn to their first checkup at two weeks or even before that time, Kernicterus may have already set in and caused irreversible damage. Time works against a newborn, so it is crucial that a doctor quickly diagnoses and treats jaundice before toxic levels of bilirubin develop.

What Doctors do to Prevent Kernicterus

While jaundice is common, a doctor may not be able to tell whether a newborn has low or high levels of bilirubin without tests. Thus, the standard practice is to recognize jaundice, diagnose it, and treat it, if necessary, before the infant leaves the hospital. When that does not occur and parents notice their baby often crying hysterically, arching their backs, or staying fussy for hours in the day, the baby may suffer from several conditions, including colic, infection, cerebral palsy, and Kernicterus.

A physician performing their duties up to their professional standards typically tests a jaundiced newborn’s bilirubin levels with a light meter that reads transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) levels through the baby’s skin or serum blood tests. Urine and skin tests are also common. The bilirubin measurement correlates to the baby’s age in hours. When the bilirubin reaches a specific number in relation to the baby’s age, therapy is standard protocol. For example, 15 milligrams of bilirubin per deciliter (dL) in infants between 25 and 48 hours old is too high and requires treatment.

When TcB levels are high, phototherapy, or when that is not enough, blood transfusion treats the condition. Phototherapy involves shining a bright blue light on the baby’s skin to help with breaking down hemoglobin. A physician must diligently monitor TcB levels through any treatment course. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that physicians and hospitals have a protocol to identify and test for hyperbilirubinemia; they should not rely on visual evaluations only but run tests to verify bilirubin levels. After all, the pigment of a newborn’s skin may not reveal the extent of jaundice. The agency also recommends appropriate follow-up after hospital discharge.

Prognosis for Newborns with Kernicterus

Some newborns die from this condition, but when they survive, they may have cerebral palsy, cognitive deficiencies, teeth problems, and loss of vision and hearing. A baby with the condition may need lifelong therapy, rehabilitation, and additional accommodations. They may need in-home care or special medical devices and assistive resources to help them through daily living. Some children with cerebral palsy suffer from seizures and need hearing aids, cochlear implants, wheelchairs, or communication equipment for the sight or hearing impaired. House and vehicle constructive adaptations may be necessary as well.

How Medical Malpractice May Occur with Infant Kernicterus

With diagnosis, monitoring, and early intervention, Kernicterus is preventable. When doctors are too quick to dismiss jaundice as common and harmless without availing themselves of modern testing options, they may miss a severe case. While medical professionals make mistakes, some are inexcusable and harmful. They owe their patients a duty to exercise the knowledge obtained through education and experience to practice medicine within the standards prescribed by the medical professional standards. When their actions do not conform to what other comparably educated and experienced medical professionals do in similar circumstances, they commit malpractice, and families suffer needlessly.

However, those left to suffer the adverse effects of medical negligence involving newborn Kernicterus are not left without legal recourse. In many of these cases, the parents have the right to recover compensation for their child’s medical expenses, therapies, future needs, loss of income while caring for the child, and many other costs associated with their baby’s injuries, permanent disability, or even death.

Our New Jersey Kernicterus Lawyers Fight for Injured Babies and their Families

If your baby suffers from the aftermath of Kernicterus, speak to a legal professional on our medical malpractice team about your options. Our talented birth and pediatric negligence attorneys will listen to you explain what happened to your baby after delivery and how your doctors, medical team, and hospital employees responded. With a thorough investigation of the facts and timeline of your child’s care, consulting with medical experts, examining medical records, and doing other necessary research to support your claim, we assemble all of the evidence to successfully prove the breach of duty of care that occurred on the part of doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and other involved professionals and facilities.

Our attorneys use decades of experience to show all of the costs associated with medical treatment, therapy, rehabilitation, future care expenses, mental anguish, economic losses, and pain and suffering to recover the maximum compensation award for damages. When your medical team failed to diagnose and treat your newborn’s severe jaundice, and Kernicterus caused severe harm to your infant or even cost them their life, contact our New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers for immediate help at 866-708-8617.

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