When Jaundice Leads to Brain Injury

A rare condition makes normal movement, communication impossible for children.

ByABC News
July 28, 2009, 1:42 PM

July 29, 2009— -- Susan Haas says that when her daughter, Lexi, was born she was a normal, healthy baby girl.

"This was a child who had no issues," said Haas, a Charlotte, N.C.-based medical writer.

So when Lexi, at 3 days old, developed jaundice -- a common liver condition that is estimated to affect six out of every 10 babies -- the doctor was not concerned, Haas said.

That was seven years ago. Today at 6:30 a.m., Lexi, 7, headed into an operating room at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center for deep brain stimulation, a form of brain surgery that is currently not allowed on children younger than 7 in the United States.

The surgery represents a relatively new approach to help mitigate the movement disorders that Lexi suffered as a result of her bout with jaundice. Lexi's cerebral palsy and a muscle condition known as dystonia make such everyday activities as walking, reading, talking and writing all but impossible.

During the first part of the surgery, which took place today, doctors inserted a probe deep into Lexi's brain while the girl was kept in a semiconscious state. Next week, Lexi will go back into the operating room, where surgeons will implant the stimulator -- a device that will send electrical impulses to the probe -- under the skin of her abdomen.

It is an extreme measure for a problem that Haas said could have been caught early and treated inexpensively.

"She would not be having any problems if she'd had a $1 bilirubin test," she said. Instead, Haas estimated that medical expenses and other services would cost $25 million over Lexi's life.