Doctors reverse brain damage of toddler
In February of 2016, then 23-month-old Eden Carlson fell into the family pool and almost drowned. The incident left her severely brain damaged. But in what is believed to be a world’s first, doctors have managed to almost completely reverse her injury.
Eden was in the water between 10-15 minutes before she was found. She had no pulse and was unresponsive. Her mother began CPR immediately, which EMTs and hospital staff continued. Little Eden was without a heartbeat for nearly two hours before she was resuscitated. Although she was alive, she didn’t respond to touch or sound. The once vivacious, active toddler could only flail her body. MRIs revealed loss of white brain matter, as well as damage to and loss of grey brain matter.
While she showed small signs of improvement within the month after the accident, like recognizing her mother’s voice, doctors thought there was a chance they could do more using oxygen therapy.
Fifty-five days after the drowning accident, doctors started giving Eden normobaric oxygen, where oxygen is given in the same levels as found at sea level, for 45 minutes twice per day. There was an immediate improvement. She was able to purposefully move her limbs and even grasp with one hand. She even regained some speech and the ability to track objects with her eyes.
Encouraged by her progress, doctors started Eden on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). She was placed within a special chamber filled with pure oxygen at levels higher than those found in the Earth’s atmosphere.
After 39 HBOT session combined with physical therapy, Eden had made almost a full recovery. She was able to walk and talk again. Her thinking processes had improved and her motor skills were restored close to where they were before the accident.
Dr. Paul Harch, who treated Eden, believes her young age may be one of the reasons why oxygen therapy worked so well. “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,” he said in a statement to LSU Health New Orleans.
Eden’s recovery is considered to be the first incidence of doctors managing a near reversal of serious brain damage using oxygen therapy. Her case is reported in the Medical Gas Research Journal to educate other doctors on this treatment’s potential.
While Eden’s oxygen treatments weren’t covered by insurance, the good news is that they were nearly risk-free to her well-being. It’s possible that oxygen therapy may become the default treatment for children who suffer brain damage after a near drowning. “Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning,” notes her case study.