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Kernicterus is brain damage that happens when a newborn is experiencing severe jaundice. It’s very rare. When bilirubin, a substance in the blood builds up to very high levels it can then spread into a baby’s brain tissues, leading to kernicterus and permanent brain damage. The spreading usually only happens when this condition is left untreated.
When a baby is born, they may have a low-level buildup of bilirubin that causes them to look slightly yellow in the skin and eyes, or jaundiced. About 60% of babies born in the United States every year have some form of jaundice. When a mother is pregnant, her body will remove any extra bilirubin that has built up in the fetus. After a baby is born, the newborn’s liver will take a few days to rid of the extra bilirubin the blood. If babies are fed on a normal schedule of every two to three hours, then mild jaundice is supposed to go away on its own. If the jaundice gets worse, then the baby will need to be monitored and brought in for treatment.
The long-term issues that kernicterus could cause include movement problems, where a child has random and jerky movements or slow and uncontrolled movements, learning problems, hearing loss or deafness, and problems looking upward or moving the eyes.
Symptoms of Kernicterus
If a baby has kernicterus, then they may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Hard to wake them up
- Difficulty eating
- A high-pitched cry that doesn’t sound normal
- A fever that comes up with any of these symptoms
- Poor muscle tone, where the baby seems floppy or weak, the baby’s muscles flex in an abnormal way, or the baby is stiff and arches their back and head
In order to diagnose this condition, a doctor will perform a physical exam and do a blood test to measure the bilirubin levels.
Since a baby will already have brain damage once they are diagnosed with kernicterus, they may exhibit symptoms of brain damage like:
- Not being able to move or focus the eyes
- Intense crying
- Lack of control of the muscles
- Stiffness in the neck
- Overly large forehead
- Facial features that are distorted
- Misshapen or twisted spine
When a baby has brain damage, they could have cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, or intellectual disabilities, among other health issues.
Treatment for Kernicterus
In order to treat kernicterus, doctors might perform light therapy and intravenous fluid replacement, where they give a baby fluids through a needle into the vein. A tube may be placed down a baby’s stomach to feed them as well. Feeding will have to happen every one to three hours so that a baby can urinate and defecate and expel the bilirubin from their body. A baby might need a blood test and then a transfusion to get rid of any extra bilirubin.
When a baby already has kernicterus and permanent brain damage, further treatment will be required. They might need medicine such as anti-seizure pills, sedatives, and muscle relaxers, as well as occupational and physical therapy so they can function from day to day. Recreational therapies such as music and art therapy could be beneficial to a child, too. A baby may need to undergo one or multiple surgeries in order to function to the best of their ability.
How Do I Know if Medical Malpractice Caused Kernicterus?
It can be difficult to know whether or not medical malpractice caused kernicterus. Sometimes doctors make mistakes but it doesn’t mean they were negligent – which is what you need to prove. However, if your doctor did any of the following, they may have been negligent:
- They did not run tests to see if your baby had severe jaundice
- If they did run tests, they did not use the results to treat your baby accordingly
- They did not properly monitor you and/or your baby throughout the pregnancy, birthing, and labor process
- They did not perform treatments correctly
Using the evidence you collected, you will need to show that your doctor was negligent and that negligence caused your injury. The legal system sets the bar high for proving negligence because if it were easy, then everybody would sue their doctor for every little mistake that was made. This would bankrupt doctors and nobody would want to go into medicine. The only way to know if you have a legitimate medical malpractice claim is to contact a birth injury lawyer.
They will evaluate your evidence and determine if it’s strong enough to proceed with your case. If you don’t have solid evidence, then your case might get thrown out immediately, so you need to go in prepared. If you need help gathering evidence, your lawyer will be happy to assist you.
How Much Will I Receive From a Kernicterus Settlement?
Your lawyer will go after the highest settlement possible based on the amount of your damages from factors like:
- Medical bills
- Loss of companionship and enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Future medical care
- Loss of earning capacity
If your baby now has brain damage from kernicterus, then your settlement should be higher. This is because your baby now needs lifelong care and treatment that could include therapy, surgery, medication, help from a caregiver, and medical equipment to assist them every single day.
While your lawyer won’t be able to predict how high your settlement will be, they are going to work hard so you receive the compensation you deserve.
Settlement Offers in a Kernicterus Case
Once you get in touch with your birth injury lawyer, they will contact the defendant to attempt to reach a fair settlement. The defendant may try to negotiate or they might not want to settle at all. Typically, however, if you have indisputable evidence, the defendant will settle rather than going to court. This is much more time-consuming and costly, and could put a damper on their reputation and hurt their business.
Why Contact a Birth Injury Lawyer?
Your baby has been through a horrible and traumatic birth injury. Now, you need to spend time with them and focus on their treatment. While you’re coping with your baby’s condition, your lawyer will go out and fight hard to get you the settlement that’s rightfully yours. You can have peace of mind during an overwhelmingly challenging time.
Kernicterus Birth Injury Attorneys
If your baby was diagnosed with kernicterus and you believe that medical malpractice was to blame, then contact Gilman & Bedigian today for help. We’re standing by and ready to work hard for you.
Contact Gilman & Bedigian 24/7 for a free consultation at (800) 529-6162.