Researchers in the United States, after having treated a drowned and resuscitated toddler with a combination of oxygen therapies, have reported what they believe is a first-of-its-kind reversal of brain damage.
The little girl, whose heart stopped beating for two hours, showed deep gray matter injury, and cerebral atrophy with grey and white matter loss after the accident, and could no longer talk, walk, or respond to voices – but would squirm uncontrollably and shake her head.
Amazingly, thanks to a range of oxygen treatments, administered by a team from LSU Health New Orleans and the University of North Dakota, doctors were able to significantly reverse the brain damage that she had experienced.
The drowning occurred in February 2016, when two-year-old Eden Carlson slipped through the baby gate while her mother was showering, then made it past a heavy door, before eventually falling into the family swimming pool.
She was submerged for 15 minutes before being discovered and had suffered cardiac arrest, and while her mother immediately began CPR, she wasn’t resuscitated for 2 hours. After receiving critical care at the Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the little girl was discharged, but due to the extent of her brain damage, hyperbaric specialist Paul Harch proposed treatment with oxygen therapies in an attempt to wake up her damaged brain.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by administering oxygen to a patient at an ambient pressure higher than atmospheric pressure, through the use of a sealed, pressurized chamber. By doing this, the oxygen in the patient’s blood is increased, which can eventually restore normal levels of blood gases and repair damaged tissue.
In Eden’s case, she wasn’t located close enough to a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, so Harch’s team began a bridging course of normobaric oxygen treatments that were delivered at sea level pressure – fifty-five days after she drowned.
The treatments, given for 45 minutes, twice a day, through a nasal cannula, saw Eden recover alertness and reduced her squirming, giving her back increased movement of her arms and hands. Furthermore, she also regained part of her ability to eat orally, speak short sentences, and laugh.
About three weeks later, the researchers moved Eden and her family to New Orleans, where she began a round of new treatments inside a hyperbaric chamber. After just 10 sessions, Eden’s mother observed that her daughter was back to “near normal, except for gross motor function”, and so she started to have physical therapy as well.
Once 39 hyperbaric sessions were completed, Eden’s walking had improved, and her level of speech was better than it was before the accident. She showed improvements on all neurological abnormality tests, and showed near normal motor function and cognition.
At the conclusion of the treatment, 162 days after she drowned, MRI scans revealed that Eden still had 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 state that to their knowledge, this kind of reversal is “unreported with any therapy”. While they do not quite understand the exact breakdown of this amazing revival, it’s clear that normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen treatments combined to reduce inflammation and promote brain cell survival.
Harch declares that “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. Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning”.