Exchange Transfusion for Jaundiced Newborns in the United States
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Exchange transfusion is the replacement of blood from newborn infants with elevated bilirubin level in their blood stream with donor blood containing normal bilirubin levels. Newborn infants that experience jaundice, the yellowing of the skin and eyes, have a buildup of bilirubin, a chemical that occurs during red blood cell breakdown, or hemolysis. Exchange transfusion is a therapy developed throughout the 1940s by Louis Diamond and a group of surgeons at the Children’s Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. During exchange transfusion, a physician inserts a plastic tube called a catheter through the umbilical vein of the infant to slowly remove infant blood and sequentially replace it with donor blood. Exchange transfusion was the first definitive treatment for hyperbilirubinemia in the US and it helped reduce the incidence of kernicterus, a type of brain damage caused by elevated bilirubin levels.