Untreated jaundice in a baby can cause a permanent brain injury

Jaundice is a medical condition that some babies develop shortly after birth. It’s also called hyperbilirubinemia.

What is jaundice/ hyperbilirubinemia?

When excessive amounts of bilirubin accumulate in the blood it causes hyperbilirubinemia.

Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment that the body generates when red blood cells are broken down. When a baby has too much bilirubin in the blood it causes the characteristic yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin that people associate with jaundice.

Diagnosis and testing

Pediatricians should be on the lookout for the possibility of hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice, and should order appropriate testing to verify it. The responsibility doesn’t stop there, though. The doctor, nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA) must also follow up on test results to make sure the baby gets any necessary treatment.

This is the problem that two young Texas parents addressed in a medical malpractice lawsuit involving their little girl. Let’s call her Iris.

Shortly after Iris was born, a pediatrician examined her at the hospital. The pediatrician felt that she had a high risk of hyperbilirubinemia. He ordered standard blood work to verify the diagnosis, consisting of direct and indirect bilirubin levels. Direct bilirubin can be excreted by the liver. Indirect bilirubin circulates in the bloodstream and can cause problems when the levels are too high.

When there are critical results from bloodwork, laboratory personnel must notify the physician or provider who ordered the test. A laboratory tech notified Iris’ pediatrician that her direct bilirubin level was abnormally high. That was evidence confirming his suspicion that Iris had hyperbilirubinemia. Despite these positive test results, though, the pediatrician didn’t order any treatment and discharged Iris home.


The most common treatment for jaundice is phototherapy, which involves placing the baby under an ultraviolet light. The baby is monitored during the therapy and blood levels of bilirubin are rechecked to make sure that it’s working. Unfortunately, Iris’ pediatrician didn’t order this important treatment.

Life-changing injuries without treatment

Over the next week, Iris’s condition worsened. Her parents returned her to the hospital, where repeated laboratory studies showed baby Iris had bilirubin toxicity. She was diagnosed with kernicterus, which caused a brain injury and cerebral palsy.

If your child was seriously injured because of poor pediatric care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.