The standard hospital treatment for newborn infants who develope jaundice is photo therapy, exposing the baby's skin to light, according to medical experts. Infants are not given heat treatments, as was reported in Saturday's editions, although some heat is created in the process.
An 8-day-old baby, being treated for jaundice at the Washington Hospital Center, died there after his incubator overheated due to a malfunction, the D.C. Medical Examiner's office reported yesterday.
As the temperature in the heating unit rose, the baby began to hemorrhage and there was massive bleeding in the lungs that resulted in death, according to the official death certificate.
"It's commonly called a heat stroke when it happens out of doors," Dr. Brian Blackbourne, the District's deputy chief medical examiner, said yesterday. "The temperature was elevated above what it should have been, and as a result the baby's temperature went up until the body began to bleed."
The baby was born at home on June 13 and admitted to the hospital center for jaundice treatment on June 19. He died there on June 21.
The hospital conducted its own autopsy and had initially reported that death was caused by pulmonary hemorrhaging, according to a death certificate filed with the D.C. Vital Statistics Office on June 30. Blackbourne said Chief Medical Examiner James Luke, at the request of the attending physician, looked over the autopsy findings Thursday and then issued an amended, more detailed cause-of-death certificate.
In this report, Luke said the complete cause of death could not be determined within 7 hours after the infant died but that subsequent "gross and microscopic findings and circumstantial investigation" had led him to conclude that a malfunctioning incubator had caused the fatal bleeding.
At the Washington Hospital Center, spokesman Jane Snyder said the hospital "deeply regrets the death . . . . In the 3 years of the hospital's history, delivering an average of 3,000 babies a year, there has never been an occurrence of this kind." iner's investigation and had moved quickly to check out all other heating units to make sure they are functioning properly.
The parents of the infant refused yesterday, on the advice of their attorney, to discuss the death. The mother did complain, however, that as of late yesterday she had received no notification from the hospital about the malfunctioning incubator.
Snyder said the attending physician planned to contact the parents. It could not be learned how long the baby had been in the incubator before the temperature increase was discovered, and the hospital declined any comment on the details of the case.
Blackbourne said the infant, once taken out of the heating unit, was resuscitated and kept alive for 18 hours before dying of massive bleeding.
Jaundice, a disease caused by excesive bile secretions from the liver, commonly affects up to 90 percent of newborn babies. Bile pigments in the skin and mucous membranes give jaundice sufferers a yellowish appearance. Giving heat treatments to babies with jaundice is considered standard procedure in hospitals.