Kernicterus and Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Kernicterus is one of many causes of cerebral palsy in the newborn. When kernicterus is the cause, we know that another life-changing birth injury should have never happened. It is for these children and their families that we crave justice and work tirelessly to achieve it.

Cerebral palsy affects the development of fine and gross motor functions. It can also affect cognitive development and learning ability. Children with kernicterus brain damage are most often afflicted with a "dystonic" or "athetoid" form of cerebral palsy.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is characterized by tremors, lack of coordination, writhing, involuntary motions and unsteadiness. Dystonic cerebral palsy may accompany athetoid CP, and is characterized by twisting, repetitive movements and abnormal postures.

The loss of coordination and uncontrolled movements are directly associated with the “kernicterus event” when, as a newborn, the bilirubin entered the brain and damaged the portion of the brain called the basal ganglia. This is the site of brain destruction in basically all cases of kernicterus, and is associated with movement disorders. These children are likely to have displayed hypotonia (abnormally low muscle tone) as an early sign of kernicterus.

Cerebral palsy is typically diagnosed when the child is about three years old. As early as two years old, parents may begin to observe writhing movements of the fingers, hands, arms and feet. This is a signature sign of athetoid cerebral palsy. Depending upon the degree of loss of muscle control, the child may not be able to hold his or her posture.

Many children’s faces and tongues are also affected, causing great difficulties with speaking, eating and swallowing. Because speech and movement is noticeably impaired in children with cerebral palsy, many people have the misconception that all of these children are mentally retarded. This is far from the truth. While many children with CP have degrees of mental retardation, many others are extremely intelligent.

Children with Kernicterus-Induced Cerebral Palsy Have Special Needs

Effective management of cerebral palsy takes a team of medical and rehabilitative specialists to provide continual evaluation and rehabilitation to strengthen the child’s functional capabilities. Children with cerebral palsy require various levels of therapy.

If the child has trouble communicating, speech therapy and alternative means of communication may be necessary. Physical therapy will help a child with cerebral palsy develop motor skills such as keeping their balance, walking, bending, and grasping. Occupational therapy will help teach the child (and parents) basic ways of feeding, dressing and other everyday activities. Recreational therapy allows children with CP to strengthen muscles and joints in a fun way, and often involves swimming.

Depending on the severity of the damage caused by kernicterus, cerebral palsy patients will continue to need therapy and treatment as they grow older. Their life care plan may involve power wheelchairs, braces, special computers with software to enhance learning and communication, adaptive home furnishings and accessories, hearing aids or cochlear implants, and automobile modifications.

Cerebral palsy victims have ever-changing needs. It is vital that they maintain good physical, nutritional and mental health. With the continuous help of a devoted family and a network of dedicated support groups, the life of a child handicapped by kernicterus and cerebral palsy can take on new meaning.

The Cost of Cerebral Palsy to a Family

Extensive financial support is required for the care of individuals with CP. Over a lifetime, it is not uncommon for expenses to reach into millions of dollars. The emotional cost of pain and suffering can never be measured.

For the parents of children that sustained cerebral palsy as the result of severe newborn jaundice, there is the opportunity to seek the justice your family deserves.

As a medical malpractice law firm, we believe in giving a powerful voice to those who would otherwise have none. Without any obligation, Ratzan Law Group will review your child’s medical history and help you get to the truth. To find out more, contact us about your kernicterus cerebral palsy case here or by telephone at 855-RLGLAW1 (855-754-5291).

Kernicterus Information Center