Two weeks after Baby Doe’s premature birth, she developed signs of jaundice. Seven hours later, a check of her bilirubin revealed a severely elevated level of 29. The attending doctor ordered retesting of the bilirubin level but did not order any treatment.
Hours later, when a second bilirubin test showed a level of 27.1, the same doctor was notified by nurses of the out-of-balance level. By the next morning, the child’s bilirubin level increased to 32.1. Another physician began treating Baby Doe the next morning and ordered phototherapy, which began more than 17 hours after Baby Doe’s first bilirubin test was reported to the first doctor. Phototherapy is the usual treatment for jaundiced newborns.
Baby Doe suffered kernicterus resulting from severe jaundice. Kernicterus is a kind of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice, just as Baby Doe had endured. Baby Doe is now 10 years old. She suffers from cerebral palsy and cannot speak or walk. The Doe family sued the health system that employed the doctors involved alleging that they chose not to timely test Baby Doe’s bilirubin level at the first signs of jaundice and chose not to timely treat the jaundice. That failure caused the child’s permanent and severe injuries.