Kernicterus And New York Medical Malpractice

Birth Injury

Kernicterus is a type of brain damage in newborn infants that is caused by high levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is created when red blood cells breakdown. Individual red blood cells die regularly as a natural bodily function. In normal circumstances, the liver will break down the bilirubin, allowing it to be eliminated from the body. However, in a newborn, the baby’s immature liver may not be able to breakdown all the bilirubin created. The build-up of bilirubin in the body results in jaundice, or a yellowish staining of the skin and eyes. In most cases, jaundice in newborns is harmless and will normally clear up with treatment after a short period of time. However, in some cases, jaundice can pose a serious threat to a baby should bilirubin cross into the brain. When this happens, the condition is known as kernicterus.

In all newborns, bilirubin levels should be monitored carefully. Several methods exist that can be used to prevent levels from becoming too high. These methods include phototherapy, blood exchange transfusion, and fiber optic blanket.

If certain guidelines are followed, then kernicterus is preventable. Failure to carefully follow recommended guidelines when treating jaundice could lead to kernicterus in newborns. Some mistakes pediatricians make when confronted with a newborn with jaundice are:

  • Delaying treatment to repeat tests to confirm high bilirubin levels.
  • Delaying or interrupting treatment to perform diagnostic tests.
  • Failing to act until bilirubin levels are dangerously high.
  • Failure to examine the baby for acute kernicterus.
  • Failure to consider a newborn’s precise age when assessing bilirubin levels (bilirubin levels may be normal at one hourly age while abnormal at another).

Many children who suffered from kernicterus or brain damage due to excessive levels of bilirubin will require a lifetime of expensive medical care, participate in physical and occupational therapy, and possibly placement in a specialized institution. Seeking legal assistance to obtain the compensation may be the only way a child is provided with the care and services they need.