My Child Has Kernicterus: Why it Could Have Been Caused by Medical Malpractice

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Understanding Kernicterus: Why Medical Malpractice Could be the Cause If You Find Yourself Saying My Child Has Kernicterus


The birth of a child is perhaps a parent’s most special and important moment in life. The child they have envisioned is finally here, being placed in their arms. While labor and delivery can be stressful, it is generally a very happy and emotional time for the mother and father. However, when complications occur, this joyous moment can be turned upside down. While there are risks going into any labor and delivery, many babies are born without incident. Unfortunately, there are some cases in which a newborn suffers needlessly from a birth related injury that can severely alter their lives forever. One example of this is the condition kernicterus, which can be due to medical malpractice. 


It is important to realize that medical malpractice in Oregon is something that parents regularly face.  It is not, however, the fault of the parents.  A doctor’s mistakes or a healthcare provider’s errors are not the fault of the parents for bringing a baby to that provider.  Rather, medical malpractice is a form of negligence where a healthcare provider has failed to properly render the care and treatment necessary to protect a patient from reckless and foreseeable harm.


What is Kernicterus?


According to the Center for Disease Control, about 60% of all babies are born with jaundice. If treated appropriately with phototherapy, jaundice usually resolves unless there is a more pathologic cause which at that point will be investigated and treated depending on the cause. If a provider fails to identify and treat jaundice in a timely manner, the baby could suffer from a life threatening condition called kernicterus, which is the result of untreated jaundice. The bilirubin level continues to rise without treatment, causing brain damage to the newborn. Elevated bilirubin is referred to as hyperbilirubinemia. 


Also according to the Center for Disease Control, “no baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice”. This is because jaundice is easily detectible by examining the infant and performing a simple blood test. Infants with jaundice have yellowing of the eyes, skin, and tissues. The blood test can be performed by a simple heel stick to test a baby’s bilirubin level. 


As mentioned above, while jaundice is easily treatable, once kernicterus has occurred, the baby is likely to have significant neurological damage from the excess bilirubin. Kernicterus can be treated, but once damage has occurred it is irreversible. 


What are Signs of Kernicterus? 


While jaundice is the most tell-tale sign of kernicterus, there are other signs and symptoms that may indicate to you that your newborn is suffering from kernicterus. The most common signs include the following: 


  • Extreme irritability 
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Decrease in the amount of wet diapers produced
  • Abnormal tonic movements
  • Abnormal suck response 
  • Lethargy and difficulty to arouse the newborn
  • High pitched cries
  • Arching of the back
  • Fevers
  • Decrease in feeding


What is the Treatment for Kernicterus?


Treatment for kernicterus includes phototherapy, possible blood transfusion, and hydration with fluids. A controlled feeding schedule to ensure the infant is eating enough is instituted and measurement of diapers occurs as well to ensure the abby is urinating and defecating enough. If treated immediately, there is a chance that the newborn will suffer little to no brain damage. However, infants typically experience some extent of brain damage once jaundice is allowed to progress to kernicterus. 


How is Kernicterus Caused by Medical Malpractice?


As the CDC stated above, a child should never suffer from brain damage as the result of kernicterus. Generally speaking, medical malpractice is almost always to blame when kernicterus occurs. This is because when a newborn has jaundice (something that is easily able to be detected by just looking at the newborn), treatment should occur immediately. Failure to treat and closely monitor the infant can lead to the development of kernicterus. Some of the most common reasons that kernicterus can be caused by negligence include the following:


  • Failure to perform necessary testing (i.e. bilirubin blood test)
  • Delay in the diagnosis of kernicterus
  • Failing to recognize kernicterus vs. jaundice
  • Failing to properly monitor the infant
  • Failing to provide adequate follow up care
  • Lack of physician training, leading to a lack of understanding of the condition
  • Mixing of two patients lab reports


These are just a few of the many ways that kernicterus can be caused by medical malpractice. 


How Can Our Oregon Kernicterus Medical Malpractice Attorneys Help You?


As mentioned above, the development of kernicterus can be quite devastating to the parent and child. Kernicterus can lead to catastrophic brain damage, forever altering the newborn’s course of life. Newborns with significant brain damage due to kernicterus may need lifelong care. They may struggle with the ability to walk, talk, feed themselves, dress themselves, and perform many activities of daily living. 


With new diagnosis of disability comes great cost to the parents along with emotional trauma of having their infants life tragically altered. This is why we encourage you to contact our experienced kernicterus attorneys today if your newborn was diagnosed with kernicterus. 


Our attorneys can review your case for FREE to determine if medical malpractice was to blame for your child’s injury. Medical malpractice related kernicterus cases are eligible for compensation for the extensive needs they will have due to the injuries sustained. Compensation for this type of injury typically includes the following:


  • Past physical pain and suffering
  • Future physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future wages
  • Lifetime or longterm care of the child if the child will need specialized care
  • Occupational therapy coverage
  • Speech therapy coverage
  • Physical therapy coverage
  • Assistive device coverage, and
  • Coverage for any additional special education services the child may need (i.e. specialized schooling).


There may be other forms of compensation that a victim and his or her family may be entitled to under Oregon law, including compensation for losses that you may not even believe could be compensated under the law.  Always ask for help because help is free from a lawyer.


Ask Our Kernicterus Injury Lawyers for Help in Portland, Oregon


If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form.  We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.


Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton,  Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles,  St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.


We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.

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