Kernicterus: The Always Preventable Birth Injury

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infant on bedAfter a baby is born, the infant is monitored and tested extensively for any medical conditions. With all of the exams and bloodwork, parents can usually be assured that any medical conditions in their newborn will be caught and treated.

Because of all of the testing, kernicterus is referred to by physicians as a “never event,” meaning something that should never happen during appropriate medical care. If your child was diagnosed with kernicterus, something likely went wrong during your baby’s treatment.

What Is Kernicterus?

Most babies, especially newborns, are born with some level of jaundice. Because the infant’s liver is not fully developed at birth, the baby’s body cannot process out bilirubin like an adult. Bilirubin is a yellow-orange substance made up of broken down blood cells which are normally filtered out by the liver. When a baby is born with excess bilirubin, or jaundice, the infant’s skin will be a yellowish color.

Jaundice in babies is common and treatable. In many instances, the jaundice goes away on its own. If a baby is very jaundiced, special lights are used on the infant’s skin which will help the liver break down the bilirubin.

Kernicterus occurs when a baby’s bilirubin levels become too high, and the broken down red blood cells cross into the baby’s brain. The bilirubin causes brain damage, and results in a type of cerebral palsy. Depending on the amount of bilirubin which crosses into the brain, the damage may be mild or result in severe medical and physical disabilities or death.

Causes of Kernicterus

With responsible medical care, a doctor and other medical personnel will monitor a newborn’s bilirubin levels, and will provide light treatment if the numbers get too high. When kernicterus occurs, it is almost always because the baby’s bilirubin levels went unchecked.

Sometimes kernicterus occurs because a doctor is relying on the color of the baby’s skin to check for jaundice. Though the skin is usually yellowed, skin color is not a good indicator of an infant’s bilirubin levels. In other cases, an infant’s bilirubin levels may rise dangerously after the baby and its parents return home from the hospital. If a doctor fails to recognize the symptoms of bilirubin poisoning, treatment may be delayed for long enough that kernicterus and brain damage occurs.

Overall, any baby who shows signs of jaundice should have its bilirubin levels monitored by medical professionals. Early intervention and treatment when bilirubin rises is critical to ensuring that the baby does not suffer brain damage.

At the Trial Law Office of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D. Esq., we share a parent’s outrage when an infant is injured by inexcusable negligence. If your baby suffered an injury as a result of malpractice, our dedicated legal team will fight to get you the justice you deserve for your child.

To make an appointment with experienced Los Angeles medical malpractice attorney Bradley I. Kramer, fill out our contact form online or call (310) 289-2600. Don’t wait to fight for your rights after your child is injured—call today to get the help you need to heal.

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