ABC Law Centers obtained a settlement for a child with cerebral palsy due to medical negligence. A child has cerebral palsy because physicians failed to properly treat high bilirubin levels (which cause jaundice ) in a newborn. Testing for and treating elevated bilirubin levels (hyperbilirubinemia) is very easy and there is no excuse for a child to suffer brain damage from this condition.
Jaundice occurs when red blood cells break down and bilirubin (a by-product of this breakdown) floods the baby’s body. Excess bilirubin causes the baby’s skin and eyes to have a yellowish appearance (jaundice), and a little yellowing occurs in many babies because all babies experience a period of rapid red blood cell breakdown. Most babies can easily process the bilirubin. But in some babies, the blood cells break down faster than normal and the body can’t easily metabolize the bilirubin. This can cause the it to build up in the baby’s blood, and when this happens, the bilirubin can enter the baby’s brain tissue. Bilirubin is toxic to brain tissue, and can cause permanent brain damage called kernicterus, which can then cause the child to have cerebral palsy.
TREATMENTS FOR JAUNDICE & HYPERBILIRUBINEMIA
Hyperbilirubinemia is easily diagnosed with simple blood tests, and it can be treated with phototherapy, which is when the baby is placed under special lights that decrease bilirubin levels. A fiberoptic phototherapy blanket and a blood exchange transfusion can also be used for treatment.
If there is an underlying condition causing the hyperbilirubinemia, it should also be treated. Infections, sepsis, and brain bleeds caused by forceps and vacuum extractor deliveries also can cause elevated bilirubin levels. Premature birth and blood group incompatibilities between the baby and mother may additionally cause high bilirubin levels.
CEREBRAL PALSY & ITS CAUSES
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that cause a child to have problems with movement, balance, coordination and posture, and it is caused by injury to the developing brain. This means a child can get the condition until she is approximately three years of age, although sometimes the condition isn’t diagnosed until a child is four or five years old.
Kernicterus refers to yellow staining of the deep nuclei of the brain, namely the basal ganglia, which is a collection of distinct masses of gray matter. Kernicterus involves specific movement disorders, hearing loss or deafness, and impairment of eye movement. Children with kernicterus typically have a dystonic or athetoid form of cerebral palsy. Athetoid refers to slow, writhing, involuntary movements that occur. Dystonia, or abnormal muscle tone and position, is more common, and may occur with or without athetosis.
Aside from kernicterus, other forms of bilirubin-induced brain damage can exist, including intellectual disorders and auditory processing problems.