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Untreated Jaundice Can Cause Severe Disabilities In Children

Jaundice is common in infants. The medical condition is caused by excess bilirubin, which is a substance that is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice causes the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow. It is not usually considered a serious illness and can be successfully treated. Without proper treatment, however, jaundice can cause severe birth injuries, including brain damage and cerebral palsy.

Severe Impairments After Being Sent Home With Jaundice

The family of a 6-year-old boy is all too familiar with the serious complications that jaundice can cause. When the boy was a newborn, the medical center where his mother gave birth released him without a proper exam, according to a recent news report. The medical center released the baby even though his mother said that the boy's skin was turning yellow, jurors would later find. He was less than 48 hours old.

The family said that nurses told the mother that the illness would go away. Instead, the boy grew worse. His family rushed him to another hospital when he began vomiting. Doctors there diagnosed him with hyperbilirubinemia, which is a severe form of jaundice. The hospital performed two blood transfusions, but the boy suffered irreversible damage. He is unable to use his arms and legs and cannot speak.

The family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. In November 2013, jurors awarded the family $26 million, which the hospital said it would appeal. The family's medical malpractice lawyer doubts he has seen a "more preventable case."

Jaundice Is Treatable

Severe cases of jaundice in infants are generally preventable because the condition is easy to diagnose and treatments are available. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that no baby should have brain damage from untreated jaundice. The CDC says that medical professionals can check bilirubin levels by using a light meter to check the transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) level. A blood test may be ordered if the TcB level is high.

If a baby has mild jaundice, doctors may recommend that parents alter feeding habits to lower bilirubin levels. More frequent feedings and supplemental formula may help. In other cases, additional treatments may be necessary. These include:

  • Phototherapy: A baby with jaundice may be placed under special lights that change the shape and structure of bilirubin and allows it to be excreted in urine.
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg): Jaundice may be decreased if a baby receives immunoglobulin by IV. Immunoglobulin is a blood protein that can reduce the levels of antibodies and decrease jaundice.
  • Exchange blood transfusion: If jaundice does not respond to other treatments, medical professionals may repeatedly withdraw small amounts of blood, dilute the bilirubin and transfer the blood back into the baby.

The CDC recommends that parents take their baby to the doctor if your baby is very yellow or orange, is hard to wake up or refusing to sleep, is not feeding well, is fussy and does not have enough dirty diapers. Parents should get emergency help if your baby is crying inconsolably, is arched like a bow, has strange eye movements or has a stiff or limp body.

If your child has suffered cerebral palsy, brain damage or other injuries as a result of untreated jaundice, the hospital or medical professionals who failed to diagnose and treat your child may be liable in a medical malpractice case. An experienced attorney can provide more information.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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