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Jaundice Can Lead to Brain Injury in Children

In Eastern Texas, a doctor and medical center were issued a lawsuit for neglecting to test Tri’Micah and Joy London’s newborn baby for jaundice. Dr. Samantha Chaikin and Premiere Pediatrics allowed the family to leave the facility without noticing that the baby showed many of the familiar symptoms of the condition. Because of inaction and neglect, the Londons’ baby suffered severe brain damage and hearing loss.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a condition that results in yellow pigmentation of the skin and the whites of the eyes. The yellow color is caused by bilirubin— a build-up of old red blood cells. When too many red blood cells die, the liver overloads and cannot properly move dead cells from the body. Sixty percent of infants are born with jaundice, making it a common condition that usually is not harmful if noticed and treated right away.

Infants can develop the symptoms of jaundice a few days after birth, which is why it is important for the first three to five days of a child’s life to have the infant checked by a health care provider. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is recommended that health care providers check for symptoms of jaundice before the baby leaves the hospital. Checking for the condition before the baby has the opportunity to leave the hospital allows doctors to treat the condition before it has the opportunity to damage the baby.

The Relationship between Jaundice and Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy results when there is damage to the brain during early childhood development or soon after birth. In the event of a severe case of jaundice, high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage if the child does not receive prompt treatment. The resulting condition is known as Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, a type of cerebral palsy that affects the entire body.

Children with athetoid cerebral palsy suffer from muscular dysfunction that varies from having muscle tone that is too tight or too loose and may have uncontrollable movements that range from slow to rapid. Facial movements, such as sucking or swallowing can be difficult for the child, making it difficult for babies with cerebral palsy to nurse. Most children diagnosed with the condition are unable to learn to control their bodies as they grow— making it difficult, and sometimes impossible to learn to sit up or walk.

Detecting Jaundice In Newborns

The signs of jaundice are not always noticeable and an infant with the condition can remain alert and continue to eat and sleep normally. If the infant has trouble waking up, is nursing poorly or develops a high-pitch cry or fever, it is important to get the child emergency care immediately. Other signs that require immediate attention are unusual movement of the eyes, arching of the back, stiffness or floppiness.

Health care professionals are required to test an infant for jaundice by performing an exam before releasing the infant from the hospital. The most obvious sign of jaundice is yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes. A skin sensor or a blood test can detect levels of bilirubin and if the levels are elevated, the doctor can treat the infant in order to prevent damage.

Medical professionals at Longview Regional Medical Center are being accused of negligence because they neglected to perform the proper exam on the Londons’ newborn before releasing the child. On Aug. 3, 2010, the baby was rushed to the emergency room because it was showing symptoms of sudden neurologic deterioration and seizures. The baby had to be transported by air to the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

At the Children’s Medical Center, the London’s baby was diagnosed with critical Hyperbilirubinemia— a condition caused by jaundice. Failure to detect elevated levels of bilirubin in the child’s blood resulted in brain damage and hearing loss. Tri’Micah and Joy have filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for the time, money and emotional stress put on their family as the result of negligence and a jury trial has been scheduled for this case.



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