Child suffers severe kernicterus brain damage due to untreated jaundice - £11.7 million in compensation

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Child suffers severe kernicterus brain damage due to untreated jaundice - £11.7 million in compensation

Maggie’, age 7 

Maggie suffered very severe brain damage when she was a newborn baby due to the failure of community midwives to carry out prompt blood tests, and hospital doctors to arrange treatment, when she developed severe jaundice. 

Maggie’s disabilities are significant and as a result she has a shortened life expectancy after being diagnosed with kernicterus. This is an extremely tragic case and no amount of money could ever put things right. However, the compensation totalling £11.7 million secured by JMW will enable Maggie to have specialist carers, allowing her and her family to have quality time together. 

Jaundice failures

Maggie was born slightly prematurely but otherwise healthy. Her mother Mary was breastfeeding and the day after her Maggie’s delivery the maternity staff were happy for her to be taken home.

The following morning, Mary and Maggie were visited at home by a community midwife, who noticed the baby was a little jaundiced. Jaundice is common in babies, and usually harmless, but when it is present in the first few days of life it is important for medical professionals to be vigilant for potential problems. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends a blood test is done as soon as the jaundice is noticed, and at regular intervals thereafter, and the baby be referred to hospital for treatment if the results give cause for concern. However, the midwife did not arrange for Maggie to be tested.

That night, Mary found that Maggie was not interested in feeding and at around 9am she called the midwife unit. Mary was given advice about how to encourage Maggie to feed and reminded that she had a clinic appointment the following day where the baby could be checked. 

Hospital treatment 

At the clinic appointment the following day midwives found that Maggie’s skin and the whites of her eyes were yellow and that she had lost quite a bit of her birth weight. They referred her straight to the emergency department of the hospital and about an hour after their arrival, Maggie was seen by a paediatrician. However, despite Maggie’s severe jaundice, no blood test was carried out until later that evening. When it was finally done it revealed the level of bilirubin in Maggie’s blood – the substance that causes the yellowing of skin and eyeballs – was dangerously high and there was a very real risk that it would cross the blood brain barrier and cause permanent damage.

It was a little while later before treatment was started with phototherapy, which reduced the bilirubin only very slowly. Due to the high levels in Maggie’s blood, she required a blood transfusion, however this was not done. 

Maggie was left under the phototherapy lamp for several days and it slowly reduced her bilirubin levels. However the delays in providing treatment, and treatment that would be effective to prevent serious injury, meant that it was now too late to stop catastrophic brain damage. 

When Maggie was a couple of months old concerns were raised about her development and she underwent assessments and scans. Following these she was diagnosed with kernicterus related brain damage and cerebral palsy that had been caused by untreated newborn jaundice.

JMW’s investigation

After researching kernicterus online, Maggie’s parents found that it is often a preventable consequence of treatment not being provided quickly enough. They came across JMW’s specialist team who had handled numerous other cases for children with kernicterus and helped them to obtain the care, equipment and specialist housing they required. After they made contact with us, Maggie’s case was taken on by Melissa Gardner, a partner in JMW’s medical negligence team and a kernicterus specialist solicitor.

After an initial assessment of what had happened, Melissa believed there was a strong case and asked leading independent medical experts to review the care provided and prepare reports with their opinion. The experts agreed that it had been negligent of the community midwives who visited Maggie at home not to have arranged a blood test when they noticed she was visibly jaundiced. They also confirmed it was unacceptable for the hospital not to provide prompter treatment and in particular not to carry out a blood transfusion. 

Melissa was able to build a strong case against the hospital which led to it making a full admission that its negligence had caused Maggie’s brain damage and an apology for Maggie and her family.

Kernicterus compensation

Maggie has extensive care needs and is unable to sit up independently or walk due to the severity of her cerebral palsy. She has very severe learning disabilities, is unable to speak or feed herself. Tragically, Maggie is not expected to live beyond middle age.

However, after winning her case, Melissa and Maggie’s family were able to ensure she could access the best possible care. Melissa negotiated a compensation settlement totalling £11.7 million, which will provide specialist carers 24-hours a day for the rest of her life, an adapted house and all the equipment and therapy she needs.

Maggie was born perfectly healthy. The tragedy of this case is that she sustained very serious brain injuries that were completely preventable with simple testing and treatment. There appeared to be no awareness of the risks of newborn jaundice or any sense of urgency when her blood test revealed worrying findings. That is unacceptable and a significant patient safety concern.

Melissa Gardner, a partner at JMW specialising in kernicterus claims who handled Maggie’s case.

Get in touch

JMW Solicitors LLP is a leading Manchester law firm and offers a broad range of legal services to both commercial and private clients. JMW’s Clinical Negligence team is headed up by leading lawyer, Eddie Jones. Please call us on 0345 872 6666or use the online enquiry form to get in touch.

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