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Kernicterus is a rare type of brain damage that can occur in some newborn babies who experience severe jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin, eyes or other tissue. Kernicterus can result from elevated levels of bilirubin, which travels from the baby’s blood into its brain tissue, where it causes severe brain damage.

If you or a loved one has given birth to a child that suffered a birth injury such as kernicterus as a result of a medical treatment provider’s failure to diagnose severe jaundice, please give our team of experienced Maryland Kernicterus lawyers a call today to discuss your legal rights.

What is Kernicterus and How Serious is It?

When a baby’s bilirubin, the yellow pigment in skin that causes jaundice, progresses unchecked, infant jaundice can develop. Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin that can sometimes go away on its own. Jaundice can also be a sign of a blood disorder or liver disease. In infants, if a significant amount of bilirubin builds up, known as hyperbilirubinemia, it may result in severe and permanent brain damage, known as kernicterus. Kernicterus can also lead to prolonged hearing loss or deafness, physical defects, cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, muscle damage, or death. Risk factors for kernicterus brain injury include:

  • Preterm Delivery
  • Infection
  • Certain Medications Given To Mother Or Baby Before Birth
  • Genetic Disorders
  • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain
  • East Asian Or Mediterranean Descent
  • Poor Feeding Habits Or Complications
  • Siblings Who Were Born With Jaundice
  • Evidence Of Bruising After Delivery
  • Type O Or Rh Negative Blood Type In The Mother

The early progression of bilirubin that leads to kernicterus, known as acute bilirubin encephalopathy, can be immediately treated and even reversed. When identified and treated promptly and effectively, disease or damage to the brain caused by kernicterus can be reversed entirely. However, it is only a matter of time before the brain damage caused by kernicterus becomes permanent and irreversible. This condition is called chronic bilirubin encephalopathy.

Signs and symptoms of kernicterus in an infant include:

  • Lethargy
  • Unusually High Pitched Crying
  • Difficulty Waking Up
  • Frequent And Unexplained Sleeping, Inability To Stay Awake
  • Lack Of Response To Physical Touch
  • Arched Bow-Like Back
  • Neck Hyperextension
  • Seizures
  • Fever

The extent of a brain injury suffered by the infant depends mainly on the amount and duration of the brain’s exposure to the increased bilirubin levels.

How Malpractice can Lead to Kernicterus Brain Damage?

Medical treatment providers can commit any number of errors after labor and delivery that can lead to a baby contracting kernicterus, including:

  • Failure To Respond To Initial Lab Results That Suggest Heightened Bilirubin Levels, Unnecessarily Delaying Treatment While Waiting For Further Tests
  • Failure To Actively Check For Signs Of Acute Kernicterus
  • Failure To Use Total Bilirubin Levels, Not Just Indirect Bilirubin Levels, As The Basis For Treatment-Related Decisions
  • Failure To Treat Jaundice Before Bilirubin Reaches Critical Levels
  • Failure To Measure And Compare Bilirubin Levels At Hour-Specific Intervals

There is no cure for kernicterus once the condition develops, but it can be prevented by treatment of jaundice with minimal intervention, such as leaving the infant under UV lights, monitoring the baby’s blood and bilirubin levels, and observing the baby for behavioral abnormalities. Often, a doctor’s failure to adhere to the standard of care for treating jaundice or suspected kernicterus brain damage can lead to devastating results.

What Happens to Infants With Kernicterus Brain Damage?

In the days and weeks following the onset of acute kernicterus, parents will be able to notice unusual mannerisms and changes in behavior in their newborn. Some symptoms are detectable within 24 hours of labor and delivery and may present before the baby has made it home from the hospital. The resulting disorders will be mostly dependent on the severity of the brain damage and may take months to years to diagnose. Long-term effects of kernicterus brain damage may range from mild disorders in which the child can live a full, productive life, to severe complications in which the child will require total medical support.

Chronic kernicterus results in varying degrees of injury, including:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Partial Hearing Loss Or Total Deafness
  • Mental Retardation
  • Gaze And Vision Abnormalities, Especially Upward Gaze Paralysis
  • Abnormalities Of The Baby Teeth

In some instances, babies born with kernicterus brain damage suffer from mental retardation or are otherwise mentally challenged. Depending on the extent of the individual baby’s brain damage, there may be signs of long-term needs, including physical therapy, speech therapy, long-term medical treatment, implantation of medical devices, and special education services.

Brain damaged children typically need special consideration and assistance to help them become as independent and healthy as possible as they grow into adulthood. The medical and educational component is only one part of the equation, as families raising mentally challenged children often face staggering financial burdens. The financial implications of long-term medical care, various therapies, and special schooling can often cripple families regardless of their income.

Call a Maryland Kernicterus Attorney Immediately

If you or someone you love gave birth and the fetus experienced kernicterus, give us a call. The experienced birth injury attorneys at Ketterer Browne & Anderson have the expertise and resources available to investigate the facts of your case and determine if medical negligence caused your child’s birth injury. Our Maryland Kernicterus lawyer is available to answer your questions and help you recover adequate compensation for your child’s medical care and related costs