If jaundice goes undetected or untreated in a newborn, it can result in kernicterus. Kernicterus can damage a newborn baby’s developing brain, potentially resulting in impairment and developmental difficulties.
If you gave birth to a child born with an undiagnosed case of kernicterus and he or she sustained birth injuries as a result, you may wish to consider your legal options. Attorneys at Stern Law, PLLC can review your options for legal action in a free consultation. Call (800) 462-5772 today.
How is jaundice treated in newborns?
If jaundice is present in a newborn at or soon after birth, he or she will be undressed and placed under special lights while the child’s eyes are completely covered in order to undergo a treatment known as phototherapy. The child should also be hydrated as much as possible with regular monitoring of his or her diaper to check for signs of improvement in the passage of urine and stool, which are key indicators that the treatment is effective.
To illustrate, phototherapy works by converting bilirubin into a compound that can more easily be broken down and excreted by the body via urine and stool. If a child experiences acute kernicterus (prolonged periods of jaundice), a doctor may decide to order a blood transfusion in addition to a more intense round of phototherapy treatment. Gastrointestinal feeding may also be necessary if the child is severely ill and dehydrated. In the event that a child sustained brain damage or other serious complications due to an undetected case of jaundice, he or she may require surgical intervention and prolonged periods of physical and occupational therapy.
Malpractice and misdiagnosis in kernicterus cases
One of the most maddening aspects of kernicterus is that it can easily be prevented with proper diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. Sometimes, this is as easy as a doula, midwife, nurse or physician ordering a blood test when he or she notices a slight yellowing of a newborn’s skin. However, medical professionals can and sometimes do make mistakes, which could end up depriving you and your child of a normal life.
The following are the primary ways in which medical professionals make mistakes with regard to this highly preventable condition:
- Failing to treat a child immediately at the onset of jaundice – Specifically, an untreated case of jaundice can have debilitating neurological and physical consequences. Sometimes doctors wait too long to choose an appropriate treatment or fail to realize the severity of a child’s case.
- Failure to initiate bilirubin level testing – By conducting the above mentioned tests, a doctor or medical professional can easily determine whether a child is suffering from excess bilirubin levels in his or her system. Failure to act immediately and conduct the necessary tests can leave a child with debilitating, yet otherwise preventable, injuries.
- Failure to examine a child for jaundice or kernicterus – As soon as a child begins to exhibit the signs and symptoms of jaundice or acute kernicterus, medical intervention must be sought immediately. This issue is especially common in children who have darker skin, where a yellowing or change in skin tone is not as readily noticeable as in newborns with lighter shades of skin. In other words, it is easier, yet still inexcusable, for doctors to miss a case of jaundice in this set of circumstances.
- Failure to appreciate bilirubin level test results – Bilirubin levels depend upon several factors, including the age of the child. Specifically, a one-day-old child may have normal bilirubin levels, and on day two could have a dangerously high blood reading. Doctors should always retest a child suspected of experiencing jaundice in order to ensure quick, accurate and appropriate treatment.
- Interruption in phototherapy – Sometimes doctors will remove a child from under the lights in order to conduct various tests or to determine the risk of blood exchange transfusion. Consistently interrupting this type of therapy can slow the progression of symptom improvement and may even lead to a worsening of the condition. A doctor should keep a child under the lights as much as possible until the child demonstrates that his or her system has fully recovered.
How can kernicterus be prevented?
The simple answer to this question is through diligence and monitoring. If you notice that your child’s skin tone is slightly yellow at birth or soon thereafter, mention it to your doctor immediately. This simple step can save your child’s life and also, spare them of needless disabilities and other serious conditions associated with acute kernicterus.
To discuss the details of your case with a qualified birth injury attorney, please contact Stern Law, PLLC by calling (800) 462-5772. We are pleased to offer free consultations.