The Potential Consequences of Failure to Treat Newborn Jaundice
There are a host symptoms and conditions that may affect a baby soon after he or she is born. Among them is newborn jaundice, a medical condition caused by high levels of bilirubin, a yellow substance that the body creates when it replaces red bloods cells, which should be broken down and flushed from the body in the stool. When bilirubin builds up in the blood, this causes jaundice, marked by yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. When a baby suffers from newborn jaundice, immediate identification and treatment can eradicate the issue and prevention future complications. On the other hand, infant jaundice that is allowed to progress can lead to permanent consequences, including Cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and kernicterus, a serious form of brain damage.
What is Newborn Jaundice?
During the period of gestation, the placenta removes bilirubin from the growing fetus’s body. Once the baby is born, the liver assumes responsibility for breaking down bilirubin, which is then removed through the process of defecation. However, in some situations, an underlying condition can contribute to the development of severe jaundice in an infant. Some of the possible causes of newborn jaundice include: sickle cell anemia, Rh incompatibility (blood type mismatch between the mother and baby), cephalohematoma (bleeding underneath the scalp that occurs during traumatic delivery), infection, cystic fibrosis, hepatitis, and certain medications.
The most observable symptoms of newborn jaundice are yellow-tinged skin that can be first apparent on the face and subsequently disperse to the chest, abdomen, legs, and/or soles of the feet. Other possible symptoms of newborn jaundice include excessive tiredness and poor feeding. If an infant shows signs of jaundice, doctors must measure bilirubin immediately. In fact, many hospitals test for bilirubin levels in all babies approximately 24 hours after birth. There are several tests available to evaluate bilirubin levels, but a simple blood test known as a complete blood count (CBC) is the most commonly used.
When a newborn is diagnosed with jaundice, the condition can be successfully treated with a method called phototherapy, which uses blue lights to break-down the bilirubin in the skin. Physicians must be aware of the potential signs of jaundice and take timely action to treat it if high bilirubin levels are present. Generally, doctors are advised to test bilirubin levels in the first day of the infant’s life and to schedule at least one follow-up visit for babies sent home from the hospital in the first 72 hours.
Medical Malpractice Involving Newborn Jaundice
In a recent case, a jury awarded $46.5 million to a victim whose untreated newborn jaundice led to severe brain damage and permanent disability. Kara Smalls, now 2-years-old, was born in June of 2014 with newborn jaundice. Her doctor, Dr. Jonathan Lewis, failed to treat the condition, which resulted in the development of kernicterus. Kernicterus is a rare form of brain damage that occurs when bilirubin builds up to very high levels and invades the brain tissues, causing permanent brain damage.
As a result of the damage to Kara’s brain, she is unable to walk, talk, feed herself, or care for herself independently. Although she has normal cognitive function, she is bound to a wheelchair and will require 24-hour care and continuing medical treatment for the rest of her life. According to Kara’s parents, Dr. Lewis failed to respond to the initial high bilirubin reading and the apparent signs of jaundice in the first 24 hours of her life. Additionally, the doctor did not order follow-up blood tests, nor did he administer phototherapy or other treatment before sending the infant home. Tragically, in the days that followed, Kara’s bilirubin blood levels became increasingly high, penetrating her brain and causing significant brain damage.
In this case and many others like it, the negligence of medical professionals led to irreversible, life-altering harm for a young girl and her family. When these instances occur, it is imperative for those responsible to be held accountable for the suffering they have caused. At Fronzuto Law Group, our New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys are dedicated to advocating for the innocent victims who deserve justice. We regularly tackle the most complex pediatric and medical malpractice cases, including birth injuries, Cerebral Palsy, and brain damage resulting from failure to treat newborn jaundice. If you or someone you love suffered harm as a result of negligent medical care, contact our North Jersey offices today at 973.435.4551 for a cost-free consultation.
For additional information pertaining to the aforementioned recent case, access the following article: Arkansas Jury Enters $46.5 Million Verdict For Toddler In Medical Malpractice Case
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