A parent's worst nightmare miraculously did not come true. Two-year-old Eden Carlson had drowned in her family's pool, but doctors were able to reverse brain damage in the toddler.
It was February 2016. Eden had somehow gotten through a baby gate at home and subsequently fell in to the pool. Her mother had been taking a shower, probably not expecting the toddler to get through a baby gate as well as a heavy door to access the pool. Eden lay in the cold pool water for up to 15 minutes before someone discovered her.
Eden suffered cardiac arrest and her heart stopped beating for two hours after she drowned. She also exhibited serious gray matter injury as well as cerebral atrophy with gray and white matter loss. She could no longer respond to voices, speak, or walk. However, she was able squirm and shake her head, albeit involuntarily.
Most importantly, however, Eden was alive.
The little girl spent 48 days in the hospital, receiving critical care. She was able to go back home after those 48 days, but still suffered the physical side effects of brain damage. Researchers at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine and the University of North Dakota School of Medicine thus placed Eden in two types of oxygen therapy.
You can read the case report here.
These two oxygen therapies are normobaric oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). 55 days after the drowning incident, the team began to administer normobaric oxygen twice a day for 45 minnutes at a time. Oxygen levels in normobaric oxygen therapy are the same as oxygen levels at sea level. This helped Eden regain control of her arms and legs. She also regained the ability to eat and speak, but not that much.
Three weeks later, hyperbaric oxygen therapy began. In HBOT, doctors administer pure oxygen at pressures higher than atmospheric pressure. This increases the oxygen supply in the patient's blood, which can facilitate tissue repair. Eden had five 45 minute-long sessions per week. After 10 sessions, Eden's mother reported that the toddler was almost completely back to normal.
After some physical therapy and 39 HBOT sessions, Eden showed signs of vast improvement. She regained the ability to walk and speak normally. Her cognitive abilities improved a lot as well, and her motor functions were almost back to what they were like before Eden drowned.
About a month after the 40th HBOT session, the research team found that the therapies were able to almost completely reverse brain damage in Eden. It was also fortunate that Eden was so young, because it was definitely an advantage in her recovery. Her brain was still developing, so along with the oxygen therapy, genes that promoted the survival of cells kicked into gear.
As far as the researchers knew, Eden's was the first known case wherein doctors were able to reverse brain damage in a patient. Eden still has some mild injury in her brain, but she's walking, talking, laughing, and behaving like a normal toddler. Thus, it's likely that she'll have a good life as a normal, run-of-the-mill kid.
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