Kernicterus is one of the most preventable forms of brain damage in a newborn. This disease happens when severe infant jaundice is untreated for too long, causing bilirubin toxicity in the brain.
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An article from Mondaq shows how simple it is to treat and detect and what can happen if it’s not. In addition to the yellow skin and eyes caused by jaundice, kernicterus also has symptoms of lethargy, slow reflexes, and poor feeding in the early stages. As it gets worse, high-pitched crying, muscle rigidity and arching, and seizures can happen. It can even cause coma if untreated.
Kernicterus is what happened to one baby in 2007. He was a premature birth with a twin who died soon after birth. Premature babies are at higher risk for severe jaundice. He was taken to a neonatal intensive care unit.
A few days into his stay there, he developed severe jaundice and some of the signs mentioned above. However, they were ignored by medical staff. Treatment of the condition is simple. Phototherapy can break down the bilirubin until the baby’s liver can do it on its own.
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Why was this treatment ignored? Outdated treatment protocols. The threshold for phototherapy treatment was incorrect. Also, the protocol they had was meant for healthy babies, not for premature babies who have a higher risk of kernicterus. Instead of relying on clinical judgment, they leaned on the old protocol, which had been updated several times. As a result, the baby became disabled.