Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that occurs as a result of excess jaundice. In turn, jaundice is caused by a surplus of bilirubin in the bloodstream so extreme that it moves into brain tissue.
Bilirubin is a metabolic waste product produced by the breakdown of heme, a component of red blood cells. Hyperbilirubinemia is an elevated level of bilirubin in the blood serum and can be measured with a simple blood test. Hyperbilirubinemia can lead to jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin, secretions, and whites of the eyes. The threshold for an abnormal bilirubin value varies by age and can progress rapidly.
Bilirubin can exist in the blood in two different forms, either bound to protein or unbound. The amounts of these two forms of bilirubin are added together to make up the Total Serum Bilirubin concentration. High levels of unbound bilirubin can cause the condition known as kernicterus, a form of cerebral palsy. Kernicterus is a preventable injury with devastating results including spasticity and movement disorders, delays in development and growth, hearing loss, impairment of eye movements, and dental problems.
There is no cure once kernicterus develops, but it can be prevented by treatment of the elevated bilirubin levels with minimal intervention, including simply leaving the infant under UV lights, monitoring the baby’s blood levels, and just carefully observing the baby.
If your child has been diagnosed with kernicterus because of your doctor’s lack of a jaundice diagnosis, you need help to get the compensation you deserve. Call an experienced Colorado medical injury lawyer as soon as possible at 303-792-5595 or fill out Burg Simpson’s FREE Case Evaluation Form now.
Medical providers can commit any number of errors that can lead to a child contracting kernicterus:
- Not believing the lab results, and delaying treatment while waiting for further tests.
- Delaying treatment or interrupting phototherapy for further testing.
- Not looking for signs of acute kernicterus.
- Basing treatment decision on indirect bilirubin levels instead of the total bilirubin.
- Letting the bilirubin reach critical levels.
- Measuring the bilirubin and not comparing it to hour-specific norms.
Kernicterus became relatively rare with the invention of effective phototherapy systems, but in recent years, cases of kernicterus have seen a resurgence. Tragically, kernicterus is easily prevented with proper care and monitoring. With the medical treatments available today, kernicterus should be an extremely rare occurrence.
Unfortunately, some medical professionals still hold the mistaken belief that the extent to which a baby is jaundiced is an indication of how high the baby’s bilirubin level is. This simply isn’t true. In many babies, especially those with dark skin, jaundice is difficult to detect visually, and it’s not uncommon for a baby to have an elevated bilirubin level even when the skin appears normal.
The surest way to know if the baby’s bilirubin level is too high is to measure it with a blood test. Another misconception is that kernicterus only occurs when the bilirubin level is extremely high, such as at a value of 20 mg/dL or above. This is also incorrect, and kernicterus has been reported even at levels as low as 10 mg/dL.
Because it takes a few days for even a healthy baby’s liver to begin working at full capacity, it’s normal for most babies to have some jaundice between days two and five of their lives. Jaundice that appears within the first 24 hours of life, however, is usually a sign of a more serious cause of jaundice and should be carefully monitored and treated appropriately. Likewise, jaundice that lasts longer than the first few days of life can also be a sign of a more serious problem.
- Rh or ABO blood incompatibility between mother and baby.
- Bruising during birth due to use of assistive devices such as forceps or vacuums.
- Any traumatic injury that causes bleeding or bruising.
- A family history of jaundice in the baby’s siblings.
- Certain genetic diseases such as Crigler-Najjar Syndrome or Gilbert’s Syndrome.
- Liver disorders.
Even at high levels, elevated bilirubin can be successfully treated with phototherapy. When phototherapy is discontinued, however, it is important for healthcare providers to monitor the bilirubin levels in case they should rebound back to dangerous levels. TSB concentration should be re-checked within the first 48-72 hours after phototherapy is discontinued to ensure that the levels are remaining at a safe level once the therapy is removed.
Visit the Colorado Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Burg Simpson
In addition to the tremendous emotional and physical hardships involved, caring for a child with brain damage resulting from kernicterus can be financially devastating. Receiving compensation when medical errors cause the kernicterus can help to offset the astronomical costs of providing proper care and treatment for your child.
If your child has been diagnosed with kernicterus-related brain damage, please reach out to us today to schedule your free initial consultation. We’ll review your hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus claim with you and help you determine how to best proceed. We represent hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus victims nationwide. Call the Colorado medical malpractice attorneys today at 303-792-5595.