When mistakes or negligence by physicians, nurses or other healthcare provider occurs during delivery or care of a newborn baby and results in brain damage, such as failing to diagnose, monitor or treat jaundice, it can have devastating consequences.
About 60% of all babies have jaundice, a condition that can develop when red blood cells deteriorate and bilirubin is left. Bilirubin is broken down in the liver. However, in some infants the liver does not perform efficiently enough to eliminate the bilirubin. When it builds up in the infant’s body, the skin and whites of the eyes might look yellow. Any baby with untreated jaundice or Hyperbilirubinemia is at risk for Kernicterus.
Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that can result from high levels of bilirubin in a baby’s blood. It may take several days for the bilirubin to gain harmful levels and kernicterus may develop if medical personnel fail to monitor bilirubin levels for the first few days, or weeks in cases of premature babies, and treat the jaundice. Kernicterus can cause athetoid cerebral palsy and hearing loss, problems with vision, teeth and intellectual disabilities.
Brain damage in newborns can also be the result of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy following acute perinatal asphyxia from a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can happen when medical personnel give improper care or monitoring of the mother and baby during delivery, fail to act when the baby is in distress in the womb, delay delivery or fail to notice the umbilical cord wrapped around the infant’s neck. They may fail to administer oxygen or insert the breathing tube into the lungs properly.
Brain damage can also develop due to the infant’s undiagnosed or untreated hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
Undiagnosed and untreated infections such as meningitis with Group B streptococcus (group B strep), rubella, toxoplasmosis or cytomegalovirus can cause brain damage in infants.
Children who suffer brain damage at birth from oxygen deprivation, jaundice, hypoglycemia or infection sometimes develop what physicians call Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is not a disease or a birth defect, but rather a term used to describe a group of symptoms including poor muscle control, spasticity, paralysis and other neurologic problems resulting from brain injury before, during or shortly after birth.
There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy. It is a life-long condition treated with physical therapy, medication and surgery.