Imagine having a normal pregnancy where everything goes smoothly and then during delivery, the unthinkable happens. Your baby’s oxygen or blood supply plummets, denying your baby’s brain the oxygen it needs. Suddenly the joyful, momentous occasion of your baby’s birth shifts to life saving, and if he or she survives, lifetime disability is a real possibility. Though this circumstance is rare, it happens. What if there was a treatment that could possibly save the baby’s life and greatly reduce the potential lifetime of disabling consequences? That treatment is now here at Valley Medical Center and it’s called neonatal therapeutic hypothermia.
What is therapeutic hypothermia?
Hypothermia can be dangerous if our bodies get too cold in an uncontrolled way. However since the 1970’s, therapeutic hypothermia has been a common medical practice in adults: The treatment moderately lowers body temperature in order to reduce damage to cells and allow the body to heal.
Neonatal therapeutic treatment not widely available
In 2010 therapeutic hypothermia was approved as a treatment for fragile newborns at high risk of brain injury. Since that time until recently, babies born in South King County with potential brain injuries who could be stabilized enough and met the critical time requirements for treatment, were flown to Seattle Children’s Hospital for therapeutic hypothermia. Sometimes— when babies just weren’t strong enough for the flight or when other procedures were needed beforehand, like blood transfusions—the optimum time for treatment would pass.
Valley now offers neonatal therapeutic hypothermia With 24/7 trained staff and all the necessary equipment in place, leading-edge, neonatal therapeutic hypothermia has been available at Valley Medical Center’s Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for about a year. Valley has treated three newborns with neonatal therapeutic hypothermia—all survived. Several are under the care of Valley’s Pediatric Neurology Clinic, part of Valley’s Neuroscience Institute.
Here’s how it works
Brain injuries release toxins to surrounding cells—the cooling slows down the metabolism of the injuries and allows the cells to heal. Time is of the essence: The cooling process, which lasts for 72 hours, is accomplished through air-filled blankets and must be started within six hours of the injury. The infants are cooled to between 92 and 94 degrees (normal body temperature is 98.6.)
The dramatic, positive impact of NTH
Studies show that neonatal therapeutic hypothermia dramatically lowers the risk of death by 30%, reduces severe disability, decreases the severity of seizures which affect about half of those born with brain injuries, and improves children’s long-term intelligence. “This cooling treatment seems like a simple thing, but it makes such a difference in whether a child has a low IQ below 80 or a normal IQ,” says Kevin Joseph, DO, one of Valley’s pediatric neurologists. “It’s life-saving and life changing. I’m proud to be a part of the team that offers this service to our community.”