Usually when a baby in the United States is being born everything goes well, although anyone who has been through it knows it’s a significant medical event and can be “exciting” in the last few minutes.
Sometimes that “excitement” leads to a determination that an emergency cesarean section (C-section) delivery is necessary to protect the life of the baby and perhaps also the mom.
One area of concern is when the baby’s heart rate decelerates in utero after contractions. This can deprive the baby of oxygen which can lead to permanent brain damage, disability, or death.
Now progress is being made to limit brain damage in even some of the sickest newborns.
Recently I interviewed Kelsey Dimitropoulos, who lives in Orangevale, California near Sacramento. Three years ago she was in a community hospital giving birth to her first child, Luke. The doctor was busy doing a C-section on another patient.
Meanwhile Luke, in utero, seemed to be struggling. When he was delivered -- by emergency C-section -- it seemed it was too late. He was lifeless -- not breathing, no heartbeat.
But 15 minutes of attempting to revive him worked. Luke, however, was in terrible shape and it was very possible he wouldn’t survive or that his brain damage was severe.
In the last couple of years an approach has emerged that has been seen as a true breakthrough -- if the baby can be cooled for an extended time then brain damage can be limited and a child’s adaptable brain might find ways to cope with damage that can’t be reversed.
The good news for Kelsey and little Luke is that Kelsey’s obstetrician knew about this approach and cooling was quickly started. But the little boy needed much more specialized care -- and fast.
He was rushed to one of our top university medical centers, UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. At this center they have one of the only neurological neonatal intensive care units where pediatric neurologists and neonatal doctors work together to save the brains of babies like Luke.
Their approach was to wrap Luke in a cold blanket for three days. They call it hypothermia.