When Leah was born she suffered oxygen deprivation, a condition called HIE: Hypoxic (lack of oxygen), Ischemic (restricting blood flow), Encephalopathy (affecting the brain). In the blink of an eye, my husband and I had become part of a parents club no parent expects to be a part of: we were parents to a baby who was born sick with a large range of potential outcomes. This wasn’t anything our birthing classes taught us, nor was it something we learned about in the various books we read for the prior nine months.
We had a normal pregnancy and a normal labor, until the very end when Leah was coming out. After four hours of pushing, it was evident that Leah was stuck in the birth canal. When Leah finally came out via forceps-assisted delivery she was grey, limp, unresponsive, and not breathing.
Hours after Leah was born, we learned that Leah’s heart rate dropped below the desirable level and her cord blood was a bit acidic, indicating low levels of oxygen were circulating in her body. Low oxygen levels greatly increase the risk and extent of brain damage in a newborn. In order to counteract any further brain damage due to lack of oxygen, Leah was placed on a cooling cap apparatus, reducing her brain and body temperature to a semi-hypothermic level of 33-35 degrees Celsius for 72 hours. This process reduces brain activity and allows the brain to halt the degenerative process and begin healing. Along with the cooling cap or cooling blanket, newborns must also be hooked up to both a CFM and aEEG monitor.
The CFM machine is necessary to accurately cool the brain and provide predictive values of a newborn’s outcome, and the aEEG monitor is used to detect subclinical seizures. In Leah’s case, the aEEG monitor was able to detect 17 electrographic seizures, enabling the medical staff to administer appropriate dosing of phenobarbital (anti-seizure medication), and other medications to counteract future seizures.
After being warmed back up, an MRI showed some diffuse brain damage in the top and middle layers of the brain. Without the cooling apparatus, the damage could have been more widespread and concentrated, making recovery prospects far more remote.
Since being cooled, Leah has some developmental delays, received weekly physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and had frequent NICU and neurology check-ups. Seeing her grow and change over time despite the trauma she entered the world with has been the greatest gift we could receive as parents. She's now thriving in preschool, only requires limited occupational therapy, and her major check-ups are few. Without the cooling equipment and a well-trained staff, Leah may not have been in our lives at all, let alone flourished to the degree she has so far.
Funds donated to Leah’s Polar Hugs go directly towards helping NICUs purchase this life saving cooling equipment to treat babies born with HIE, and supporting HIE NICU families through our Hugs & Hope care packages. A donation of any amount can help give this gift and privilege to other HIE babies and their families.