Doctors Reverse Brain Damage In Drowned Toddler: What To Know About Normobaric And Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy


A year after a child's drowning rendered her unstable and unresponsive, doctors have essentially reversed the brain damage incurred from the accident thanks to hyperbaric and normobaric oxygen therapies. Here are the basic facts about these life-saving therapies.

From Tragedy To Recovery

In the United States, 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day, two of which are children under the age of 14. Such is the case of 2-year-old Eden Carlson, who drowned in 5 degree Celsius water after getting past the baby gates and falling into the family pool where she was discovered 15 minutes later.

After the accident, Carlson's heart did not beat on its own for 2 hours, and she remained unresponsive to all stimuli even after a month in the hospital. MRI revealed deep injuries to Carlson's deep gray matter and loss of white and gray matter, which points to brain damage.

After researchers from LSU New Orleans and North Dakota School of Medicine treated the 2-year-old to normobaric oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), Carlson is now able to walk and talk, and her cognitive and motor skills have almost returned to normal.

Normobaric Oxygen Therapy

Because HBOT was inaccessible at the patient's location, doctors first administered normobaric oxygen therapy to prevent further brain tissue degeneration while the child is not yet in a treatment center for HBOT.

Basically, a normobaric oxygen treatment entails administering a patient with oxygen at sea level. After Carlson was treated with 100 percent normobaric oxygen through a nasal cannula for 45 minutes per day, she woke up, gained a little alertness, and stopped squirming. She also showed signs of improved speech, eye tracking, ability to laugh, and movement in her arms.

Note that despite the improvements she exhibited, the normobaric therapy was merely a bridging treatment to prevent further brain damage until the child was taken to an HBOT treatment center. This method of oxygen therapy is also being tested for its merits in treating migraines, acute stroke, and chemical and thermal injuries.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

HBOT is essentially a mode of oxygen therapy in which patients are placed in a pressure chamber in hopes of increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Because the air pressure inside the chamber is over two times higher than normal atmospheric pressure, the blood is able to bring more oxygen into the body's tissues and organs.

HBOT is often used to treat infected wounds faster, but the method may also be used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, necrotizing soft tissue infections, radiation injury, and burns.

In the case of Carlson, she was placed inside the hyperbaric chamber for 45 minutes five days a week to complete 40 sessions. An MRI scan 27 days after her last HBOT showed almost complete reversal of the drowning-induced brain damage.

A World's First

The doctors who administered the oxygen therapies to Carlson believe that this is the first recorded case of a reversal of brain damage after normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. In Carlson's case, her very developmental age, as well as the early therapy intervention, is believed to have contributed to her startling recovery.

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