Scientists reverse brain damage in drowned U.S. toddler using oxygen therapy

In Science & Technology
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Few incidents are as harrowing as finding a child floating in a pool. Your brain instantly flashes two possibilities: death, and if not death, then permanent brain damage.

This dreaded prognosis was averted for 2-year-old Eden Carson from Lafayette who spent 15 minutes submerged in the family swimming pool. An experimental procedure not approved by the FDA may be responsible for her miracle recovery, reports Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans (LSU Health).

Doctors used two types of oxygen therapy which reversed brain damage and restored her ability to walk and talk just months after the accident. The researchers believe it is the first time that brain damage due to drowning has been reversed.

Eden fell in the family pool in February 2016 after managing to get through a baby gate. She was submersed in the 5-degree Celsius water for around 10 minutes before being discovered without a registering a heartbeat. She wasn’t expected to survive, reports Daily News.

After resuscitation at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, MRI revealed severe brain damage – deep gray matter injury and cerebral atrophy with gray and white matter loss. She couldn’t speak or walk and was unresponsive to all stimuli, squiring and shaking her head constantly, according to Dr. Paul Harch, Clinical Professor and Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine who treated her.

In an effort to reverse the brain damage, Dr. Harch started treating Eden with two types of oxygen therapy.

The miraculous happened. After months of treatment with normobaric oxygen (oxygen at sea level) and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) Eden returned back to normal – a laughing, running, speaking little girl, the brain damage just about completely reversed.

Dr. Harch said in a statement: “The startling regrowth of tissue in this case occurred because we were able to intervene early in a growing child, before long-term tissue degeneration. Although it’s impossible to conclude from this single case if the sequential application of normobaric oxygen then HBOT would be more effective than HBOT alone, in the absence of HBOT therapy, short duration, repetitive normobaric oxygen therapy may be an option until HBOT is available.”

Dr. Paul Harch, and Dr. Edward Fogarty from the University of North Dakota published their report in Medical Gas Research.

Fifty five days after the drowning accident, doctor Harch started Eden on normobaric oxygen for 45 minutes twice per day to prevent permanent tissue degeneration until she could be transferred to the hyperbaric treatment center in New Orleans. Eden responded positively to the treatment. She became more alert, stopped squirming and responded with laughing and other signs of neurological improvement.

The family then traveled to New Orleans where 78 days after the drowning accident, Dr. Harch started treating her with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This involved Eden spending 45 minutes a day in a hyperbaric chamber for five days a week for 40 sessions.

After 10 sessions, Eden’s mother reported that her daughter she was almost back to normal, except for some remaining motor function impairment. After 39 sessions, with the help of physical therapy, Eden was able to walk and her speech had returned to normal. Her cognitive abilities had improved and her motor function was almost restored to pre-drowning levels.

An MIR 27 days after the 40th HBOT scan and 162 days after the drowning incident showed almost complete reversal of the brain damage.

The doctors say this kind of low-risk medical treatment could be used for the neurological recovery of drowning victims in the future.

The treatment brings hope for thousands of victims of near-drownings the world over.