At Birth Injury Lawyers Alliance, we recognize the seriousness of neonatal conditions like jaundice, kernicterus, and hyperbilirubinemia, and the profound impact they can have on a child’s life and their family. Our dedicated team of attorneys is well-versed in the complexities of birth injury law, and we are committed to advocating for families whose children have suffered from preventable medical conditions during childbirth.
On this page, we delve into the intricacies of jaundice-related birth injuries, provide insights into kernicterus, and discuss hyperbilirubinemia’s potential long-term consequences. Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge needed to understand your legal rights and options, while we stand beside you, offering compassionate support and expert guidance throughout the legal process. When it comes to seeking justice and securing fair compensation for your child’s suffering, you can trust Birth Injury Lawyers Alliance to be your unwavering advocates.
SEVERE JAUNDICE SETTLEMENT
BILA lawyers settled a case of a child who suffered from a delay in the diagnosis of kernicterus/severe jaundice for an amount in excess of $7.5 million.
What are Jaundice, Hyperbilirubinemia and Kernicterus?Jaundice is very common, occurring in over 50% of newborns. Jaundice occurs with the accumulation of bilirubin, a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells due to the newborn’s liver not being able to process the bilirubin effectively. Newborns and infants are not easily able to flush out the bilirubin so that it can build in the baby’s body. Due to the colouring of the bilirubin, the baby’s skin or eye whites may become yellowish, which is a sign of jaundice. When there are excessive or dangerous levels of bilirubin in a baby’s blood – that is called hyperbilirubinemia. The treatment for hyperbilirubinemia is phototherapy which alters the bilirubin from a toxic to non-toxic form that is easily eliminated by the newborn. If left untreated, hyperbilirubinemia can result in the newborn suffering a brain injury (called kernicterus). Kernicterus, a brain injury caused by excessive bilirubin, is described by physicians as a “never event.” It is referred to as a never event not because it never happens, but because it should never happen. Kernicterus can cause problems with motor function, vision, hearing and can cause intellectual disabilities.
Signs of Jaundice and HyperbilirubinemiaThe main sign of jaundice is discoloring of the baby’s skin. The yellowish pigment appears first on the baby’s face and eyes, and then it may spread throughout the body. Jaundice is more challenging to detect in babies with darker skin color. Signs that a baby may have excessive levels of bilirubin in their blood include an abnormal high-pitched cry, abnormal muscle tone like either being stiff and jerky, arching backwards, or conversely being weak and floppy, being lethargic, difficult to wake up and/or not not feeding well. If you have any concerns about your child’s jaundice or behaviour it is important that you obtain medical attention for your child immediately. Jaundice and Kernicterus Diagnosis for Infants It is routine for all babies to get checked for jaundice after birth while still in the hospital. Jaundice within the first 224 hours of life is always worrisome. Additionally, the baby should also be checked for jaundice a second time between 3 to 5 days old. This is a critical time to determine if the baby has hyperbilirubinemia and needs treatment. Early detection of hyperbilirubinemia can save a baby from developing long-lasting brain injuries. There are three main ways that doctors can test a baby’s bilirubin levels:
- A blood test, which is a small sample taken from the baby’s heel, is the best way to measure a baby’s bilirubin levels.
- The medical team will check a newborn’s body for signs of jaundice during a physical exam.
- Finally, a skin test (transcutaneous bilirubin test) is when a doctor or nurse places a device on a baby’s forehead to check bilirubin levels. This device can measure the skin for discoloration by using a special light.
How are Jaundice and Kernicterus Treated in Newborns and Infants?Jaundice is relatively common in babies, and a mild case of jaundice can be treated with straightforward advice from a doctor. Often, a doctor will recommend working with a newborn baby on feeding (breastfeeding or formula). Feeding can help push bilirubin through the baby’s system faster. For severe jaundice, a baby may need a more comprehensive treatment plan. Some common treatments for jaundice in infants are:
Phototherapy treatmentDuring this treatment, a baby is placed under a phototherapy treatment lamp. The light can help a baby’s body change the bilirubin to flush out as urine. This treatment is typically provided in the hospital.
Exchange TransfusionThis is a type of blood transfusion which provides rapid reduction in the amount of bilirubin circulating on the baby’s blood by replacing the baby’s blood with compatible donor blood. The goal is to treat excessive levels of bilirubin before a brain injury can occur. Once kernicterus is diagnosed, brain damage has already occurred. While it is not uniform in every infant, kernicterus can cause the following lifelong damage:
- Movement problems where a child may develop slow and uncontrolled movements or random, jerky movements. This is known as athetosis and dystonia
- Hearing loss, deafness, or auditory processing issues like auditory neuropathy.
- Developmental and learning disabilities
- Eyes may move slowly, especially while looking upward.
- Dental issues that may weaken the enamel of baby teeth. This is known as dental hypoplasia.