Kernicterus and Hyperbilirubinaemia
Kernicterus Brain Damage and Hyperbilirubinaemia
If your baby suffered from kernicterus caused by medical negligence, Hospital Negligence can help you make a successful claim for compensation to better help your family cope with the impact of the condition, which can include cerebral palsy and blindness.
If you believe that your doctor or midwife missed the symptoms and failed to diagnose your baby quickly enough, you should seek advice from a solicitor about making a compensation claim. Damages could help you get treatment for your child or pay for any time off work for you. To speak to a member of our experienced and personable team about your kernicterus claim, simply call us on 0800 014 7481 or allow us to contact you by completing our online enquiry form.
Read About Kernicterus Claims We Have Handled
Case study: failure to treat boy’s jaundice causes brain damage
Five-year-old Nashae, of Deptford, London, suffered catastrophic brain damage while still in hospital shortly after his birth due to jaundice care failures.
Nashae’s case was taken on by the team at Hospital Negligence and the hospital later admitted negligence. A care package to provide Nashae with the care and assistance he will require for the rest of his life is currently being negotiated.
Nashae was born in a good condition but a little prematurely so was taken to the special care baby unit. One day after his birth hospital staff noticed that Nashae was a little jaundiced. A blood sample was taken to test Nashae’s bilirubin levels – the substance that causes the yellowing of skin and eyeballs and can cause brain damage if they become too high.
In the early hours of the following day Nashae was given phototherapy treatment under a UV light to try to bring them down. After several hours of phototherapy Nashae’s bilirubin levels fell to a safe level and treatment was stopped.
Grandmother’s concerns dismissed
Two days later Nashae’s mother Aleisha and grandmother Marja went to visit Nashae in hospital at around midday. Marja noticed that he was no longer moving as he had done previously, he felt hot and looked jaundiced. Marja spoke to a nurse about her concerns but these were dismissed. The nurse said that Nashae was fine and was probably just a bit stressed. The nurse did not act on the worrying symptoms pointed out to her by Marja.
Throughout the course of the day Nashae was observed by doctors and nurses who all failed to recognise and act upon his jaundice.
Much later that night Nashae was examined by a junior doctor who recognised that he was jaundiced. His bilirubin levels were checked and found to be extremely high, posing a significant risk of brain damage. Phototherapy was restarted however by this point it was not enough to treat his spiralling bilirubin levels and blood transfusions were needed. The transfusions were successful in reducing Nashae’s bilirubin levels but by this point it was too late to prevent catastrophic brain damage from occurring.
Nashae’s brain damage means that he cannot stand, walk, hear or speak and will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life. However all this could have been avoided if his jaundice had been monitored and treated as it ought to have been. If adequate care had been provided to Nashae he would have made a complete recovery.
Case study: kernicterus brain damage caused by jaundice errors
Dominic sustained kernicterus brain damage which has left him severely disabled after midwives working in the community failed to take steps to treat his newborn jaundice.
The medical law experts at Hospital Negligence helped him to win his fight for justice, paving the way for a compensation settlement to be negotiated which will cover the cost of the specialist care, equipment and accommodation that Dominic requires.
Dominic was born at 39 weeks and although his birth weight was low he was otherwise perfectly healthy and he and his mother Mary were allowed to go home the following day. The next morning mother and baby were visited at home by a community midwife. Dominic had become jaundiced overnight and Mary mentioned this to the midwife and also alerted her to the fact that he was not feeding well and was sleepy.
The midwife was unconcerned by the jaundice and said that it affected many babies. She advised Mary to put Dominic next to a window so that the jaundice could be treated with natural sunlight. The midwife led Mary to believe that the jaundice would clear up and that no further action was needed.
Because Dominic had developed jaundice at such a young age he was more susceptible to high bilirubin levels (the substance that causes yellowing of the skin and eyeballs). It was therefore inevitable that without treatment his bilirubin levels would rise, putting him at risk of brain damage and hearing loss. The midwife has made serious errors by not testing Dominic’s bilirubin levels and failing to refer him for treatment.
The next day the same midwife returned to visit Dominic and Mary. His condition had deteriorated and he was visibly more severely jaundiced. This time the midwife did take a blood sample to measure his bilirubin levels, which were found to be dangerously high. The midwife advised Mary and her husband Michael to take Dominic straight to hospital.
Dominic’s parents rushed him to hospital where his bilirubin levels were treated with phototherapy and a blood transfusion. After a few hours of treatment they were brought under control however doctors were unable to prevent him from suffering permanent kernicterus brain damage. He now has physical disabilities, is deaf and has communication and behavioural problems. He is likely to be dependent on others for his care for the rest of his life.
If Dominic’s jaundice had been treated when it was first mentioned to the midwife his serious injury could have been avoided. His parents felt that the midwife had not provided good care to Dominic and so contacted the medical law experts at Hospital Negligence for advice.
After Dominic’s case was investigated by one of our specialist solicitors the serious mistakes by the midwife were uncovered. These included failing to appreciate the significance of Dominic’s newborn jaundice and other symptoms (or if she did failing to take any action), leading Dominic’s parents to believe that his newborn jaundice was nothing to worry about and advising them that placing him in sunlight would be effective treatment even though this would have no impact and he required hospital treatment.
A battle for justice was launched and the hospital trust responsible for the midwife agreed to accept that the majority of the blame for Dominic’s kernicterus brain damage. This will enable significant compensation to be secured to cover the cost of Dominic’s care.
Kernicterus is a rare form of brain damage linked to jaundice in newborn babies. It can have catastrophic consequences for the youngsters it affects as it can lead to:
- Cerebral palsy
- Learning difficulties
Kernicterus is particularly devastating for parents because they have to come to terms with the fact that their child was born completely healthy but was later permanently brain damaged.
Kernicterus occurs when a baby’s levels of a substance called bilirubin become so high that they affect the brain. Bilirubin is the substance that causes the yellow colouration of skin and eyeballs associated with jaundice. A dangerously high level of bilirubin is known as hyperbilirubinemia.
As well as severe jaundice, other warning signs that a baby is seriously unwell and at risk of kernicterus include:
- Poor feeding
- A high-pitched cry
As their illness progresses, the baby may begin to arch their head and back due to the irritation caused to their brain. However, kernicterus is totally preventable with good medical care and simple steps taken when a baby first develops jaundice can ensure that permanent brain damage and disability is avoided.
Recognising and Treating Kernicterus
Guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) state that babies who develop jaundice must have a bilirubin test, which should be repeated regularly to allow careful monitoring.
If their levels become too high, they should be referred to hospital for treatment with phototherapy or a blood transfusion to bring them under control.
However, awareness of the risks of newborn jaundice is not always high enough among healthcare practitioners, particularly community midwives, and this can delay treatment.
Talk to Us
If you have been told your child has brain damage after having jaundice and becoming unwell, you should seek advice from legal experts who specialise in cases of kernicterus. Several of our specialist solicitors have extensive experience of kernicterus claims and can provide help and guidance on what steps parents should take. Call us on 0800 014 7481 or fill in our contact form and we will call you back at a convenient time.