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New Neonatal Treatment Reduces Brain Injury Disabilities

May 21, 2009

Kansas City, MO - The first few hours of life can be critical for a newborn, especially if the infant suffered low oxygen levels during birth. That's why a new treatment, called theraputic hypothermia, is being used at Children's Mercy Hospital. Instead of warming the newborn, doctors actually lower the baby's body temperature four degrees for up to several days to protect the brain. Children's Mercy Hospital is the only facility in the region offering this treatment.

The hospital's neonatal medical director, Dr. Howard Kilbride, says more doctors need to be trained to identify which babies can be transported to undergo the treatment. He says it's critical that it's done within the first few hours of life.

"We offer cooling as quickly as we can in order to try to minimize what we would call later brain injury - brain death that might occur."

Disabilities from a brain injury can include cerebral palsy and severe mental and visual disabilities.

Hypothermia therapy has been used in patients with spinal cord injuries, but Dr. Kilbride says only in recent years has it been studied in babies to reduce brain injuries at birth. While this treatment does not eliminate brain injury caused by low oxygen, he says it can reduce the severity of the injury by up to 25 percent.

"It's not a dramatic therapy in which all the babies do well, by any means. These are still babies who have significant problems. But there is a decreased risk of some of those problems."

Kilbride adds that more studies need to be done to learn the long-term effects of the treatment.

Additional information is available from Jessica Salazar with Children's Mercy Hositals and Clinics at 816-346-1346.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO