Researchers in the US have reported what they believe is a first-of-its-kind reversal of brain damage on a two-year-old girl who drowned in a pool and was resuscitated after two hours of her heart not beating on its own.
The lack of oxygen to her brain had caused deep grey matter injury and cerebral atrophy, and the toddler could no longer speak, walk, or respond to voices – but would uncontrollably squirm around and shake her head.
Amazingly, thanks to a course of oxygen treatments – including hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) – administered by a team from LSU Health New Orleans and the University of North Dakota, doctors were able to significantly reverse the brain damage experienced by the toddler.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by administering oxygen to a patient at an ambient pressure higher than atmospheric pressure, through the use of a sealed, pressurised chamber.
By doing this, the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood supply is increased, which can restore normal levels of blood gases and repair damaged tissue
“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,” says hyperbaric specialist Paul Harch from the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.
The drowning occurred in February of last year, when two-year-old Eden Carlson slipped through a baby gate while her mother took a shower, then made it past a heavy door, before eventually falling into the family swimming pool.
At the conclusion of the treatment, some 162 days after she drowned, MRI scans revealed that Eden still bore a mild residual injury to her brain, but had experienced a near-complete reversal of cortical and white matter atrophy.
The team studying her recovery say that to their knowledge, this kind of reversal is “unreported with any therapy”.
And while they don’t fully understand the exact breakdown of this amazing revival in Eden’s fortunes, it’s clear that normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen treatments combined to reduce inflammation and promote brain cell survival.
“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,” Harch says.
“Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning.”