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Kernicterus Brain Damage Claims
What is kernicterus brain damage?
Kernicterus brain damage is a preventable but permanently disabling complication of untreated jaundice. It occurs when the baby’s bilirubin levels have been allowed to rise to dangerous levels through inadequate monitoring or delayed treatment of hyperbilirubinaemia. If the liver is struggling to metabolise all the bilirubin in the baby’s bloodstream, the unprocessed or unconjugated bilirubin can travel through the blood-brain barrier where it causes irreversible damage to the brain and spinal cord, permanent neurological disability and dysfunction. This is known as bilirubin encephalopathy. The pattern of damage and its characteristic yellow staining of the brain is known as kernicterus.
Q. Who is at risk of kernicterus?
- Premature babies
- Full term babies with excessive levels of bilirubin in their blood (hyperbilirubinaemia)
- Babies whose bilirubin levels are above the treatment threshold and are rising rapidly
Increased risk factors for hyperbilirubinaemia include:
- Newborn babies who develop jaundice within the first 24 hours
- Babies whose siblings have suffered from hyperbilirubinaemia
- Babies who are solely breast-fed
Q. How is kernicterus prevented?
A. Kernicterus is prevented by:
- awareness of the risks
- early recognition of the signs of jaundice
- careful monitoring of the condition including, if in a home setting, advising parents to call for help if they notice any deterioration
- if the bilirubin reaches threshold levels for treatment, the baby will need phototherapy treatment or an exchange transfusion.
Q. What is jaundice?
A. Jaundice is the condition which usually appears as yellow discolouration of the skin and whites of the eyes, together with dark staining of the urine and paleness of the baby’s stools, when the liver is unable to metabolise the yellow pigment in the blood that is known as bilirubin.
Bilirubin is released into the bloodstream during the body’s normal process of breaking down old red blood cells. The bilirubin is taken by the blood circulation to the liver to be processed and then on to the bile duct and gallbladder to be stored so that it can safely be used, as bile, to help digest fats in the small intestine. It is then excreted with the body’s other waste.
If there is too much bilirubin or the liver is inflamed or obstructed or the body is struggling with other serious conditions, such as sepsis, sickle cell anaemia or rhesus disease, the liver cannot process the bilirubin and it shows up as the yellow discolouration of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
Q. What are the signs of kernicterus brain damage?
A. Some of the early signs that the baby’s brain is being damaged include:
- the baby doesn’t respond to stimulus, e.g. hands clapping in front of them
- poor feeding
- floppiness (decreased muscle tone)
- fits (seizures)
- arching of the spine
Longer term permanently disabling effects of kernicterus brain damage include:
- cerebral palsy
- learning disability
- impaired hearing
- impaired eye movements
Q. Is Legal Aid available for kernicterus brain damage claims?
A. If a child’s kernicterus brain damage, cerebral palsy or severe neurological injury was caused by negligent medical treatment during pregnancy, labour or delivery, or within eight weeks of birth, they may be entitled to Legal Aid.
Q. How can Boyes Turner help?
A. Our brain injury lawyers are specialists in achieving high value compensation awards for children with cerebral palsy, disability from birth trauma, neonatal injury, and permanent neurological damage caused by negligent medical treatment.
Our experienced lawyers have succeeded in securing damages awards for children affected by kernicterus brain injury whether that injury arose from negligent treatment in hospital, on the neonatal unit, or at home (following home birth or discharge from the community midwives).
We aim to achieve early admissions of liability and interim payments to alleviate the financial hardship that often follows a family member’s brain injury and to help our client families meet their child’s immediate needs for specialist equipment, therapies, adapted accommodation, special educational support and care. Each settlement is calculated and negotiated following detailed, expert assessment of the child’s condition to ensure the best provision for their present and future needs.
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