There is no question that one of the most exciting yet singularly stressful times in lives of parents are the hours, minutes and even seconds leading up to the birth of a child. That's because most are acutely aware of everything that can go wrong during labor and delivery.

Indeed, many parents breathe a sigh of relief once their child has finally entered the world and is sleeping soundly in the bedside bassinet. While this is understandable, parents should know that the responsibilities of medical professionals are far from being over. Indeed, it's imperative that they keep a close watch on the newborn's vital signs, and whether they start to show any symptoms of a potentially dangerous condition.

By way of example, consider jaundice, a condition that statistics show is present in roughly 60 percent of all newborns.

For those unfamiliar with jaundice, it is typically characterized by the buildup of low levels of a chemical called bilirubin in the bloodstream. During pregnancy, excess bilirubin is removed by the mother, while postpartum, the newborn's own liver and kidneys typically start to become proficient at removing excess bilirubin within a few days.

As we stated above, however, it's not uncommon for newborns to experience some difficulty in completely removing all of the bilirubin from the bloodstream, and be diagnosed with mild jaundice, a condition manifested by a yellowish tint to the skin and even the eyes.

While this can be alarming, the good news is that mild jaundice often resolves itself on its own or can be treated effectively via a process known as phototherapy, which is essentially light treatment.

Unfortunately, jaundice can sometimes go ignored or improperly treated with devastating results.

Understanding what kernicterus is

When jaundice is not adequately addressed, meaning the bilirubin levels in a newborn's bloodstream reach critical mass, it can start to spread into the surrounding brain tissue causing permanent neurological damage, a condition known as kernicterus.

Some of the more common symptoms of kernicterus -- or severe jaundice --include:

· Abnormal eye movement

· Excessive lethargy and drowsiness

· Poor muscle tone, giving a floppy, stiff or limp appearance

· Inconsolable crying with an excessively high pitch

Understanding the long-term effects of kernicterus

It's important to understand that while there are viable medical options available to prevent the further spread of bilirubin into the brain tissue, long-term damage will have already occurred.

Indeed, a diagnosis of kernicterus can mean a host of lasting and devastating complications, including:

· Athetoid cerebral palsy

· Developmental disabilities

· Vision problems

· Hearing loss

· Dental issues

Understanding how kernicterus can be a birth injury

As we stated earlier, the duties of medical professionals extend well beyond childbirth, and include monitoring newborns for symptoms of a potentially dangerous condition.

What this means in the context of jaundice and, by extension, kernicterus is that they must be monitoring bilirubin levels via blood tests and, in the event of high readings, take the necessary steps to ensure that an otherwise mild case doesn't worsen.

Some of the following types of medical mistakes that can lead to the onset of kernicterus, include:

· Failure to monitor bilirubin levels, order the necessary tests and/or interpret the results correctly

· Failure to examine or recognize the signs of kernicterus during a physical exam

· Failure to take the necessary remedial measures once bilirubin levels become too high or a diagnosis of kernicterus has been made

As understandably upsetting as it can be for parents to receive the news that their newborn has been diagnosed with kernicterus, they can derive some comfort from the fact that there are viable long-term treatment options available, including speech therapy, physical therapy and special education programs.

They can also take comfort in the fact that an experienced legal professional can help them hold medical professionals accountable for the devastation wrought by their failure to provide quality care.


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