Doctors reverse brain damage in nearly drowned 2-year-old girl

Doctors have reversed brain damage in an Arkansas toddler, who was pulled from a swimming pool without a pulse in February 2016, in what is being described as a first-of-its kind reversal.

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Eden Carlson, 2, was not breathing when her mother, Kristal Carlson, found her in the family's swimming pool in 2016. Carlson said her daughter climbed through a baby gate, past a heavy door and into the pool while Kristal Carlson was showering, WDSU reported. At the time, Eden was supposed to be playing with her older siblings, the news station reported.

Family members said Eden was not breathing and had no pulse when she was found between 10 and 15 minutes after she first got into the water. Her mother immediately performed CPR, family member said, but Eden had gone into cardiac arrest and had no heartbeat for nearly two hours.

She was rushed to a hospital, where doctors were able to revive her. However, family members said her kidneys and liver weren't working, and her blood pressure was alarmingly low. An MRI showed she had suffered a deep gray matter injury to her brain and cerebral atrophy with gray and white matter loss, according to officials at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans.

Doctors gave her between two and 48 hours to live, but she survived and, 48 days later, was released from the hospital. At the time of her release, according to WDSU, Eden didn't respond to commands, couldn't speak and constantly squirmed.

Shortly after her release, doctors with the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans and the University of North Dakota School of Medicine started giving Eden oxygen therapy treatments in an effort to reverse the brain damage in the days before she could travel to New Orleans to undergo treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, according to Newsweek.

Dr. Paul Harch, clinical professor at Louisiana State University, started giving Eden normobaric oxygen therapy, in which patients are treated with oxygen levels that are the same as those found at sea level. For 45 minutes, twice a day, Eden underwent the treatments.

According to a case study published late last month in the journal Medical Gas Research, doctors said Eden became more alert and stopped squirming as a result of the treatment. She started to laugh and had more control over her arms and eyes. Her speech started to improve, although her vocabulary appeared to be diminished.

About 2 1/2 months after Eden nearly drowned, Harch began treating her using a hyperbaric chamber. Eden underwent the treatment for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, and showed “visually apparent” improvement of her symptoms.

After just 10 of the planned 40 hyperbaric chamber sessions, Eden's mother told doctors that her daughter was "near normal," according to officials with the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.

Twenty-seven days after her last treatment session, doctors said she had only mild residual injuries. The brain damage seen in the immediate aftermath of her near drowning was nearly entirely reversed.

Harch said in a statement that the “startling” recovery was partially due to Eden’s age and the timing. Doctors were able to intervene “before long-term tissue degeneration,” he said.

Harch added that it was impossible to tell from Eden’s case whether the combination of normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen therapy was necessarily more effective than hyperbaric oxygen therapy on its own. Still, he said, “such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning.”