Critically-ill Babies Benefit from New Technology
"Infants with decreased blood flow and oxygen to the brain can go on to develop varying levels of disabilities," said certified physician assistant Alison Becker, who specializes in neonatology. "Previously, there was little we could do for these babies. Now we have the opportunity to lessen and possibly prevent many of these potential problems."
Babies face serious medical complications when their oxygen supply has been interrupted or cut off during the birth process. This rare condition, called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), can be caused by fetal stress such as an umbilical cord issue, placental abruption, infection or delivery issues that interfere with the oxygen supply to the baby's brain. HIE can lead to permanent brain damage and can cause cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders.
The Cool-Cap was designed to prevent or reduce damage to the brains of these patients by keeping the head cool while the body is maintained at a slightly below-normal temperature. It works by lowering the metabolic rate, which reduces the brain's demand for energy. The device received approval by the FDA late 2006 after many years of testing and evaluation.
The Cool-Cap looks like a tiny shower cap made of foil. It consists of a network of soft, water-circulating tubes, which spread the cooling effect around the baby's head. The baby's core body temperature is monitored constantly and kept at safe levels by using a radiant warmer.
Doctors have to act quickly because for maximum benefit Cool-Cap use has to start within six hours of birth. "Studies have shown that babies who are started on this therapy soon after birth have a statistically better outcome," said Becker. "The more quickly we can react, the higher the probability that we can slow the damage and make a difference for babies."
For those babies who are not born at MeritCare and need the Cool-Cap technology, MeritCare provides specially trained NICU flight nurses to care for them as they are transported to MeritCare's NICU.