Kernicterus is serious brain damage caused by higher than normal levels of bilirubin during the first week of a newborn’s life. Bilirubin is a by-product of red blood cells being broken down in the body. An infant’s liver is not mature and sometimes bilirubin will build up in the baby’s blood and tissues causing what is known as hyperbilirubinemia. A yellowing of the skin – called jaundice – often occurs with elevated bilirubin. If left untreated, this may escalate into kernicterus.
While kernicterus was close to eradication in the 1970’s, it began to reemerge in the 1990s in the United States. This re-emergence is thought to be due, in part, to the early discharge of newborns today and a lack of concern about jaundice among neonatologists, pediatricians and nurses.
There are clear signs and symptoms
In the world of modern medicine, a preventable condition like kernicterus should never happen. There are clear signs and symptoms of elevated bilirubin that doctors and nurses are trained to identify: a yellowing of the baby’s skin and sometimes, even the whites of the eyes; poor feeding; a high-pitched cry; and lethargy. The diagnosis is confirmed with very simple blood tests.
Treatment of elevated bilirubin and jaundice is equally as simple, including: phototherapy, where the baby is placed under special lights that decrease bilirubin levels; fiber optic blanket, a form of phototherapy, which is placed under the baby; blood exchange transfusion; and treatment of the underlying causes of the elevated bilirubin such as infection.
What to do if your child has been diagnosed with kernicterus
An infant with hyperbilirubinemia must be treated immediately to prevent it from escalating into kernicterus. Kernicterus can result in cerebral palsy and seizures. If your child has been diagnosed with kernicterus, it is very likely that he or she was the victim of medical malpractice. There is, essentially, no way for a newborn to suffer from this condition if properly treated.
It is recommended that you consult a birth injury attorney or a kernicterus attorney as soon as possible. The lawyers at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers can help. We specialize in birth injury cases and will aggressively fight for the financial help your family needs.