Kernicterus & Jaundice

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Kernicterus & Newborn Jaundice

Raleigh Birth Injury Lawyers Serving North Carolina Since 1993

Jaundice, the yellowing of skin caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the blood, is a condition affecting upwards of 60 to 80 percent of newborns. Though the condition is common and typically resolves on its own, excessive jaundice which goes untreated can pose risks of serious and preventable birth injuries – including a form of brain damage known as Kernicterus.

If your child has been diagnosed with Kernicterus, it is possible neurological damage could and should have been prevented if not for the negligence of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who handled your delivery and cared for your newborn. Determining whether medical negligence is to blame and holding responsible parties liable, however, requires in-depth investigations and the help of experienced birth injury lawyers.

Why Edwards Kirby?

  • Record-Setting Birth Injury Results – Our firm has secured the largest medical malpractice verdict in North Carolina, as well as the largest birth injury settlement in state history.
  • Proven Legal team – Our nationally recognized trial attorneys are led by two of the nation’s most respected litigators, former U.S. Senator John Edwards and David Kirby.
  • Passionate Advocacy – We’re passionate about helping children and families secure the justice and compensation they need for healthier, happier, and more stable futures.
  • Serving North Carolina – Edwards Kirby has earned a reputation as leaders in birth injury litigation, having recovered over $500 million in compensation for clients across the state.

Call (919) 780-5400 to discuss your potential case and rights with a birth injury attorney. Edwards Kirby offers FREE consultations, and works cases on contingency fees – there’s no fee unless we win.

What is Kernicterus?

Kernicterus is a rare form of brain damage which can affect newborns with severe jaundice. It occurs when levels of bilirubin in the blood spread through the body. Without proper and timely medical intervention, high levels of bilirubin can damage the brain, cause bilirubin encephalopathy, and progress to kernicterus – which can cause profound and permanent impairments, neurological dysfunction and devastating consequences for victims and families.

Babies with Kernicterus, as well as their families, can suffer far-reaching repercussions, including:

  • Problems with movement and muscle stiffness
  • Developmental delays and learning disabilities
  • Cerebral palsy (athetoid CP)
  • Substantial medical expenses
  • Hearing loss and vision problems
  • The need for assistive care
  • Lost income and earning potential
  • Mental anguish and emotional suffering
  • Poor feeding, fatigue, high-pitched crying, and seizures

How Doctors Can Prevent Kernicterus

While every case is unique, medical providers have a duty to treat newborns with jaundice, and because it’s a common condition, there are accepted standards and protocol for treating jaundice effectively so as to prevent it from escalating to Kernicterus, brain damage, and other harms. Generally, this includes:

  • Identifying risks for jaundice complications (i.e. risk factors, including but not limited to race, previous birth with a child with jaundice, darker skin, and premature birth).
  • Monitoring newborns for jaundice.
  • Testing bilirubin levels before leaving the hospital, and ordering additional blood tests or initiating specific treatments if bilirubin levels are too high.
  • Identifying symptoms of jaundice, both after delivery and in first days after birth (i.e. changes in skin tone which begins in the face or eyes, difficulties sleeping or waking up, feeding / sucking problems, extreme fussiness, less wet or dirty diapers than average).
  • Responding timely when jaundice is severe or progressing (i.e. when there are sings of lethargy, arching of the body, high-pitched crying, stiffness or limpness of the body, unusual eye movements, loss of certain reflexes, muscle spasms, etc).
  • Timely treatment (i.e. increasing fluids or feeding, using phototherapy or fiber optic blankets, and performing blood transfusions, plasmapheresis and treatment for related infections).

Medical Negligence

The U.S. CDC and the medical community makes it clear that jaundice is treatable and kernicterus is preventable. In fact, the CDC plainly states:

“No baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice.”

Because the condition is preventable with appropriate medical care, families with a jaundiced child who developed kernicterus and / or other neurological damage may have potential birth injury lawsuits. As complex medical malpractice claims, these cases require extensive insight, collaboration with medical experts and the ability to illustrate how medical negligence played a role.

Although every case is unique, examples of medical negligence which can lead to Kernicterus include:

Testing / Diagnosing Negligence

  • Failing to test bilirubin levels or perform blood /liver enzyme tests when a newborn has jaundice, and failures to continue testing and monitoring after discharge.
  • Improperly testing bilirubin levels (i.e. failing to test for specific chemical forms of bilirubin, including direct / conjugated and indirect / un-conjugated bilirubin).
  • Failing to identify risk factors and other complications.
  • Failing to diagnose acute or severe jaundice / delays in diagnosis.
  • Failing to distinguish between conjugated hyperbilirubinemia and physiologic jaundice, which require different treatment.

Treatment Negligence

  • Failing to appropriately treat jaundice / delays in treating excessive bilirubin levels.
  • Improperly performing phototherapy (“light therapy”) to decrease bilirubin levels with ultraviolet light in early stages.
  • Failing to perform or improperly performing blood exchange transfusions when high levels of bilirubin have been present for some time.
  • Postponing treatment for reasons which deviate from accepted standards.
  • Not performing any treatment at all.

Other Forms of Negligence

  • Failing to treat risk factors, including hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
  • Causing birth trauma during delivery using excessive force.
  • Improperly using labor-inducing drugs such as Pitocin
  • Negligent use of forceps and vacuum extractors.
  • Hospital failures, including failures to have jaundice-specific policies.

Accurately detecting and monitoring jaundice, performing necessary tests, and appropriately treating the condition is absolutely critical to preventing Kernicterus. Proper and timely medical care are also essential to avoiding many related neurological disabilities – from minor learning disabilities to conditions as severe as athetoid cerebral palsy.

Need a Lawyer for Kernicterus in North Carolina?

Failures to meet accepted medical standards when treating babies with jaundice should never be tolerated. If you believe your child’s condition may have been caused by medical negligence, or have questions about whether you may have a potential claim, you can feel confident trusting a team that’s set state records in complex birth injury cases – trust Edwards Kirby.

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Call 919-780-5400 or fill out our online form to request a free consultation. You won’t pay unless we win!

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