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Medical malpractice claims for preventable condition in babies

Even though guidelines for testing have been in place for 10 years, babies in Ontario and other provinces remain at risk for serious complications from untreated jaundice. This is because some doctors fail to follow protocol for testing babies for the common condition during the first 72 hours following birth. The consequences of this oversight can be catastrophic for babies, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association reports paying outrageous amounts in medical malpractice settlements.

Jaundice occurs in most newborns when their immature livers are still unable to properly process bilirubin, which is the yellowish breakdown product of red blood cells. Bilirubin can build up in a baby's body while the child's systems develop, and a newborn's skin or eyes may develop a yellowish tone. If left untreated, the bilirubin toxins may infect the baby's brain.

Forty-eight hours after giving birth, one mother took her slightly jaundiced child home with instructions to watch for signs of illness. Two days later, a doctor doing a follow-up exam did not order a blood test for the visibly jaundiced child. The infant became sicker, but by the time a doctor finally ordered the blood work, the bilirubin had already damaged the baby's brain, leaving the child deaf and with cerebral palsy.

Because hospital stays for newborns in Ontario and across Canada have been shortened over the years, children often go home before signs of jaundice appear. However, testing at follow-up appointments is recommended for every child. Children whose bilirubin reaches dangerous levels may be left with significant impairments requiring lifelong care. It is not unusual for the parents of these children to seek legal counsel about filing medical malpractice claims against doctors who fail to order tests that can prevent needless suffering.

Source: nationalpost.com, "Canadian babies continue to suffer irreversible brain damage due to untreated jaundice", Sharon Kirkey, July 18, 2016

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