Newborn and Infant Kernicterus and Severe Hyperbilirubinemia Injury Lawyers

Newborn and Infant Kernicterus and Severe Hyperbilirubinemia Injury Lawyers

According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 60 percent of full-term newborns and 80 percent of premature babies will get jaundice. Under the care of a skilled medical professional, this buildup of bilirubin in a healthy term newborn’s blood — called hyperbilirubinemia — is 100 percent treatable. When it isn’t treated in time, the bilirubin can travel to the infant’s brain and cause seizures and brain damage, a condition known as kernicterus. 

Studies have shown that kernicterus, on the wane in healthy term infants since the development of an effective treatment called phototherapy in the 1960s, seems to have reemerged in the US. Through careful and competent monitoring and treatment, every one of these cases should be preventable.

 How Does Hyperbilirubinemia Develop?

Before a baby is born, its mother’s placenta breaks down the bilirubin that enters its bloodstream when red blood cells break down. When it’s born, the role of processing bilirubin transfers to its liver — which may not be fully developed in preterm births. 

A baby with mild jaundice. Source: Flickr user rchristie, shared under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license

All babies experience a rapid red blood cell breakdown after birth, flooding their bodies with bilirubin. Additionally, babies with cephalohematoma — an accumulation of blood between the baby’s skull and the skin of its scalp — may take on high levels of bilirubin when the blood is reabsorbed by the body.

Risk Factors

Some populations and birth conditions are more at risk of hyperbilirubinemia than others. The CDC lists the following risk factors for close monitoring and early jaundice management:

  • Babies with darker skin color 
  • East Asian, Native American or Greek descent 
  • Preterm babies
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Sibling with jaundice
  • Bruising 
  • Mother with O or Rh-negative blood types

How Should Hyperbilirubinemia Be Treated?

When phototherapy was introduced as a treatment for high bilirubin levels in the 1960s, hyperbilirubinemia was nearly stamped out. That this condition is once again on the rise indicates a corresponding rise in medical negligence.

Hyperbilirubinemia, which can lead to kernicterus, is easily treatable with phototherapy. Source: Wikipedia

Phototherapy is a non-invasive light therapy treatment that can be done either in the hospital or at home. In more extreme cases, the baby will receive a blood transfusion. 

What Are the Symptoms of Kernicterus?

If any of the following symptoms occur, treatment should be given immediately. Failure to act in a timely fashion may lead to neurological disorders like athetoid cerebral palsy, complete hearing loss or even death.

  • Extreme jaundice
  • Poor feeding
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Low muscle tone
  • No startle reflex
  • High-pitched wail
  • Irritability

How to Know if Medical Negligence is Responsible for Your Infant’s Injury

Negligence that may result in a baby developing kernicterus can include the following:

  • Delayed treatment — even if the doctor wants a high bilirubin lab test repeated, treatment and preparation for a blood transfusion must be initiated immediately
  • Postponing or interrupting treatment in order to test the safety of a blood transfusion — if tests are needed, they can be done under the lights. If the baby must travel for an outside test, the lights can travel too
  • Measuring indirect (or unconjugated) bilirubin instead of the total serum bilirubin to make treatment decisions
  • Failing to compare bilirubin levels with hour-specific norms — a dangerously high bilirubin level in a 24-hour-old baby could be low risk for a 47-hour-old baby 
  • The use of birth instruments

When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney

With birth injuries such as kernicterus, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. Although filing suit may seem like a secondary concern when dealing with an infant’s health, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law state that birth injury cases must be filed within two years from the date of injury — other states set their statutes of limitations as short as one year for such cases.

With 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis. 

To schedule a meeting for a free consultation, fill out our form or call us directly at 1-800-590-4116.