Cooling newborns to save lives


by KING 5 HealthLink

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 20 at 10:17 AM

Seven week old Tyler Evans is one tough little man said his father.

"One of the doctors said he's gone through more during his first week on this earth than most of us would ever go through in our lifetime," said Ken Evans.

Tiffany Evans' pregnancy was normal. But Tyler was in trouble the minute he was born.

"Once he came out, immediately I saw the cord around his neck, and it was extremely tight," said Ken Evans.

Tyler was rushed to St. Louis Children's Hospital where a new procedure called therapeutic hypothermia has become a game-changer for at-risk newborns.

"This is a big deal. We've not had anything specific for the brain for decades," said Dr. Amit Mathur, Medical Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St.Louis Children's Hospital. He's Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Newborns spend 72 hours wrapped in a special blanket that lowers their body temperature three to four degrees. They have continuous specialized monitoring throughout the process. Cooling therapy is catching on at hospitals around the country including Seattle Children's where it is currently used for three to four newborns a month.

"If you think about it, when patients go to the operating room for heart surgery, patients are cooled for that, so it's a technique that's been used for several other contexts," explained Seattle Children's Neonatologist Dr. Sandra Juul.

Dr. Juul who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington gave a simple way to think of how the treatment helps babies.

"In the same way that you put ice on your knee if you twist your knee and it helps the inflammation, basically that's what we're doing with the brain, decreasing the inflammatory response," Dr. Juul said.

Babies like Tyler often face dire consequences from lack of oxygen at birth.

"They either have cerebral palsy or mental retardation, deafness or blindness," Dr. Juul said.

Studies show the newborn cooling treatment can reduce the chances of severe brain injury by 25 percent. For Tyler?

"The first MRI was fine, and that's where they find the major head trauma or any brain damage. And he was fine. Everything was normal," said Tiffany Evans.

Today it seems Tyler is on his way to a healthy future.

"He's meeting all his milestones on time. And we still consider him a great little miracle," said Tiffany Evans.

Studies on the cooling therapy show the sooner it begins after birth, the greater the potential benefit for babies who need it.

Researchers at Seattle Chlidren's are also studying whether certain medications can be given during cooling therapy to improve the results even more for newborns.