To the surprise of many people, almost 80 percent of children born in the United States each year are jaundiced. However, while they may have some yellow coloring of the skin and eyes, most are not seriously affected, and thus have normal function regarding muscle tone, sleep, and other related areas. Yet while most newborns have mild forms of jaundice that quickly dissipate, others have more serious forms that can lead to a severe type of brain damage known as kernicterus. Caused by high amounts of a substance known as bilirubin, kernicterus can occur when high levels of bilirubin progress through the blood and reach brain tissue, leading to brain damage.
Numerous Treatments Available
While kernicterus is extremely serious, the good news is that there are numerous treatments available that can lower the bilirubin level in a newborn. The most common is phototherapy, which uses a special form of blue light to alter the chemical state of bilirubin from toxic to a water-soluble form that is non-toxic. Along with phototherapy, blood transfusions are also used in cases where immediate treatment is required to ensure there is no permanent brain damage. However, while there are common treatments available to prevent this condition from evolving into a life-altering or life-threatening situation, many doctors and other healthcare professionals make many mistakes when treating newborns with kernicterus.
Failure to Believe Lab Results
In many cases, doctors and nurses will choose to not believe the lab results they are given regarding a newborn’s bilirubin level. When this happens, they all too often delay giving the baby the proper treatment, greatly increasing the chances the newborn will suffer permanent brain damage. However, even if doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers believe the results of the lab tests may be incorrect, they should nevertheless begin treatment immediately until they receive a second set of test results. In case after case, it has been verified that even if a newborn is treated with large amounts of phototherapy, blood transfusions, and other related methods, no harm will come to them if lab tests do reveal normal levels of bilirubin.
While many doctors in these situations choose to delay treatment that can help prevent kernicterus, others make the mistake of interrupting treatment that has already been started on a newborn. Though doctors are supposed to be trained to properly diagnose these situations, they all too often fail to realize that no harm will come to the child if they continue treatment while awaiting the test results. In addition, many fail to realize that even if additional lab tests such as a sepsis workup, lumbar puncture, or EKG or ultrasound of the baby’s heart are required, these should always be done while phototherapy is taking place.
Dangerous Levels of Bilirubin
Since reducing excessive levels of bilirubin is considered rather easy to do, doctors and nurses have an obligation to do so under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, many doctors and nurses fail to follow standard guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which leads to the development of kernicterus.
Impact of Kernicterus
When a newborn develops kernicterus, the impact on them can be devastating. Since the condition is closely related to cerebral palsy, such aspects as hearing, eye movement, and balance are greatly impacted. While many of these children ultimately have hearing difficulties, others may become completely deaf. Along with this, abnormal muscle tone may be present, leading to the child having difficulty moving about like other newborns. Sadly, once kernicterus is allowed to become severe, the results are generally irreversible, setting up the child and his or her parents for decades of expensive medical treatment.
When a child has been diagnosed with kernicterus, it is important to seek compensation for these injuries. Since a child with this condition will need specialized medical treatment, 24/7 care from parents and nurses, and will miss out on many of the joys other children experience, those responsible for making errors that resulted in this situation must be held accountable for their negligence and carelessness. In most cases, parents can seek compensation to cover not only the lifetime medical care needed by their child, but also the physical and emotional pain and suffering the child, parents, and other family members will experience along the way.
Experienced Legal Professionals
Since kernicterus happens very rarely, it will be crucial to work with an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in handling these cases. Because birth defect injury cases can be very complex, always rely on legal professionals who handle these cases each day and have a proven track record of success for their clients. If your child has kernicterus due to the negligence and carelessness of medical providers in whom you put your trust, contact the Zayed Law Offices to schedule a consultation.