Severe Jaundice Misdiagnosed Injury Lawyers in Austin

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Jaundice is caused by high levels of chemical bilirubin in the blood- it is the “yellowish staining of the skin and sclera (the whites of the eyes).” Jaundice occurs in more than half of newborns and is usually a treatable, short-term issue. When jaundice goes untreated, however, the results can be dangerous- excess bilirubin then travels from the blood stream into the brain tissue, causing severe and irreversible damage. “These cases are true tragedies not only for the children, but also for the families,” said the senior vice president of the Joint Commission.

Kernicterus & Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

In 2001, the Joint Commission’s “Sentinel Event Alert” newsletter warns that when high levels of bilirubin go unrecognized, babies may suffer the debilitating and potentially fatal consequences of kernicterus.” Kernicterus is a form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice. By performing physical exams and blood tests, doctors can prevent kernicterus from occurring. Symptoms of kernicterus can include the following:

  • If a baby is very sleepy/lethargic
  • If a baby does not wake up easily or has a hard time staying awake
  • If a baby has an abnormal, high-pitched cry
  • If a baby suffers from fever or seizures
  • If a baby does not startle from sudden movements or touching
  • If a baby has poor muscle tone
  • If a baby has an arched bow-like back and the neck is hyper extended
  • If a baby does not respond to touching

Hyperbilirubinemia, also known as “breast milk jaundice,” is a severe case of jaundice that can result in Kernicterus. A long-term jaundice, it makes breast feeding difficult (as the breast feeding causes the jaundice to worsen). When severe jaundice goes untreated, not only can it cause kernicterus, it can lead to conditions such as athetoid cerebral palsy. Athetoid cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum or basal ganglia. When this condition occurs, it can cause involuntary, purposeless movements, which can make functions such as speaking, sitting, walking, feeding, reaching and grasping difficult.

A Doctor’s Responsibilities

In order to prevent Hyperbilirubinemia from occurring, the Joint Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise that:

  • All cases of jaundice, appearing in the first 24 hours, be evaluated
  • Detailed treatment strategies should be made for specific levels of bilirubin
  • Medical follow-up for newborns should occur within 24-48 hours after discharge
  • Parents should be educated about jaundice and its risks
  • Proper equipment should be used to detect and treat the condition

A doctor can diagnose jaundice by doing a physical exam and examining a baby’s complete medical history (whether a baby was born full-term, a baby’s eating and waste habits, and whether a baby has maintained or lost weight since birth). A blood test for bilirubin helps a doctor to know what course of treatment he/she should follow. Hyperbilirubinemia requires a baby to be treated with phototherapy or a blood transfusion in order to bring the bilirubin levels down.

In the words of one medical malpractice lawyer and licensed medical doctor, “A significant elevated bilirubin level or hyperbilirubinemia left untreated can escalate into many dangerous disorders including kernicterus or athetoid cerebral palsy to name a couple. The tragic thing about kernicterus and other disorders resulting from severe jaundice is they could have been prevented. Often this is a direct result of medical malpractice by the doctor.”

When Hyperbilirubinemia is not treated properly, hearing loss, developmental delays, damage to the muscles which control eye movement or death can occur. When a doctor fails to recognize the symptoms of jaundice or fails to provide proper treatment, negligence has occurred and you can file a medical malpractice claim. Also if your doctor failed to respond quickly, he/she could also be held liable. When a child is suffering from severe jaundice and does not receive phototherapy as soon as possible, more damage occurs. Phototherapy guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics include:

  • The maximum emission from the light source should be within the blue to green range of the visible light spectrum (460-490 nm)
  • Use light-emitting diodes or if fluorescent lights are used, they should have a plastic cover to prevent UV light from reaching the newborn
  • Use a radiometer to measure irradiance at several places on the baby’s body
  • Maximize the parts of the baby’s body exposed to the light source- change the baby’s position every 2 to 3 hours to help increase exposure
  • Check the serum bilirubin response within 4 to 6 hours of starting phototherapy
  • Monitor signs of increased hyperbilirubinemia such as altered behavior in sleeping and eating and crying
  • Monitor the baby for sufficient hydration, nutrition and temperature control

If your baby has suffered from adverse effects, due to severe jaundice going undiagnosed, being misdiagnosed or if your baby’s condition could have been prevented by prompt treatment, you should contact Zinda Law Group today and take steps toward fighting for justice and recovering damages with the help from a Personal Injury Attorney.