Sn-Mesoporphyrin interdiction of severe hyperbilirubinemia in Jehovah's Witness newborns as an alternative to exchange transfusion

A Kappas, G S Drummond, D P Munson, J R Marshall
Pediatrics 2001, 108 (6): 1374-7

OBJECTIVE: The religious convictions of parents who are Jehovah's Witness adherents lead them to reject the use of exchange transfusions as therapy for severe hyperbilirubinemia in newborns in whom intensive phototherapy has failed to control this problem. Consequently, physicians caring for such infants may be obliged to initiate legal action to compel use of the procedure when severe hyperbilirubinemia not sufficiently responsive to phototherapy warrants an exchange transfusion. Our goal was to determine if we could use the potent inhibitor of bilirubin production, Sn-Mesoporphyrin (SnMP), to resolve the troubling medical-legal issues in such situations in 2 infants with hemolytic disease of the newborn who required exchange transfusions for severe hyperbilirubinemia but whose Jehovah's Witness parents rejected the procedure. SnMP was administered in a single dose, as in previous studies, at the time when exchange transfusion would have been initiated and plasma bilirubin levels were monitored at close intervals thereafter.

METHODS: SnMP is a potent inhibitor of heme oxygenase, the rate-limiting enzyme in catabolism of heme to bilirubin. We found in earlier studies that in single doses of 6 micromol/kg birth weight, SnMP is extremely effective in moderating the course of hyperbilirubinemia and in eliminating the need for supplemental phototherapy in jaundiced newborns. In the 2 cases described, a single dose of SnMP (6 micromol/kg birth weight) was administered intramuscularly to severely jaundiced infants with immune hemolysis at a time when clinical circumstances dictated the need for exchange transfusion. CASE 1: This patient was a preterm male infant (gestational age: 35 5/7 weeks; birth weight: 2790 g) whose plasma bilirubin concentration (PBC) at 1 hour after birth was 5.0 mg/dL. Despite intensive phototherapy with 3 banks of lights and 1 biliblanket, the PBC increased steadily with no diminution in the rate of increase for 75 hours. In view of the problems of immune hemolysis, and prematurity, and the inability of phototherapy to stop progression of hyperbilirubinemia, a decision to carry out an exchange transfusion was made; the decision was, however, rejected by the Jehovah's Witness parents. Pending legal action to compel use of the procedure, a request to this (Rockefeller) laboratory for SnMP was made; its use was approved by the Food and Drug Administration; and the inhibitor was delivered to the physician-in-charge (D.P.M.) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The single dose of SnMP was administered to the infant at 75 hours after birth; the course of hyperbilirubinemia before and after the use of the inhibitor is shown in Fig 1. [figure: see text]. CASE 2: This female term infant (gestational age: 38-39 weeks; birth weight: 4140 g) with immune hemolysis was delivered by cesarean section and because of problems related to meconium aspiration required helicopter transfer to the Special Care Nursery in Abilene, Texas, where 10 hours after birth the first PBC was determined to be 18.0 mg/dL. Double-bank phototherapy plus a biliblanket was initiated; a third bank of lights was later ordered. The PBC fluctuated in the ensuing 2 days between 13.8 to 25.8 mg/dL during which suggestive clinical signs of possible bilirubin encephalopathy became manifest. In view of the clinical circumstances and the continued severe hyperbilirubinemia, permission for a double-exchange transfusion was requested. The parents, who were Jehovah's Witness adherents, refused the procedure. While preparing legal action to compel use of the exchange, a request was made to this (Rockefeller) laboratory for use of SnMP to attempt control of hyperbilirubinemia. With FDA approval, the SnMP was delivered to the attending neonatologist (J. R. M.) in Abilene and administered in a single dose (6 micromol/kg birth weight) at 56 hours after birth when the PBC was 19.5 mg/dL. The course of bilirubinemia before and after SnMP use is shown in Fig 2. [figure: see text].

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The use of SnMP to moderate or prevent the development of severe hyperbilirubinemia in newborns (preterm, near-term, term with high PBCs [15-18 mg/dL], ABO-incompatibility; glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency) has been extensively studied in carefully conducted clinical trials the results of which have been reported earlier. This inhibitor of bilirubin production has demonstrated marked efficacy in moderating the course of hyperbilirubinemia in all diagnostic groups of unconjugated neonatal jaundice. The 2 cases described in this report confirmed the efficacy of SnMP in terminating progression of hyperbilirubinemia in infants in whom phototherapy had failed to sufficiently control the problem and whose parents, for religious reasons, would not permit exchange transfusions. Interdiction of severe hyperbilirubinemia by inhibiting the production of bilirubin with SnMP can be an effective alternative to the use of exchange transfusion in the management of severe newborn jaundice that has not responded sufficiently to light treatment to ease concern about the development of bilirubin encephalopathy.

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