For the media

Celebrating 10 years of infant brain care at Sharp

By The Health News Team | November 14, 2022
Leo Keeling of San Diego

Leo enjoys archery, drawing, swimming and being with his family.

Ten years ago, Annie Keeling had the scare of a lifetime while giving birth. Her placenta abrupted — a complication where the placenta detaches from the womb during delivery — and her son, Leo, was born without a heartbeat.

In fact, Leo’s heart didn’t beat for the first 12 minutes of his life. Thankfully, the advanced life support team was able to resuscitate him, and he was immediately sent to the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Since Leo was at dire risk of having a severe brain injury after being without oxygen for a long period of time, therapeutic hypothermia treatment was needed to reduce swelling to his brain and any long-term damage. This safe and controlled treatment involved placing Leo on a special mat to cool his body to 33.5°C for 72 hours. His body temperature was monitored through a small probe placed in his mouth to ensure he was at the targeted temperature.

After, Leo was gradually warmed to a normal controlled body temperature of 36.5°C. He then received care in the NICU for one week.

“It was such an overwhelming and shocking birth experience, and then his recovery was relatively fast and smooth,” Annie recalls, “I think I was still wrapping my head around all of it when we took him home.”

A special first for Sharp Mary Birch
Leo became the first baby at the hospital to receive therapeutic hypothermia in the neurologic intensive care nursery (NICN). The NICN opened at Sharp Mary Birch in 2012 and is staffed by a group of nurses who specialize in neurologic care, specifically whole-body cooling and reading brain activity through electrodes, also known as EEG.

Newborns who have an abnormal neuro exam or experienced an acute event during delivery, such as placental abruption, come to the nursery and are monitored and evaluated for treatment. Therapeutic hypothermia treatment is now the standard of care for qualifying babies at Sharp Mary Birch and lessens the occurrences of serious brain injuries, seizures and cerebral palsy later on in life.

Since its inception, the specialized nursery has treated approximately 50 babies annually and has new resources to help parents bond more closely with their newborn. Special cooling blankets are used that feel warm to the touch and allow parents to hold their baby while they are being treated.

The unit also takes pride in setting the standard of infant neurological care in the community, a principle noted in its mission statement, by conducting outreach and education in other NICUs across San Diego.

As for Leo, he has an incredible update: “He is doing great,” says Annie, “I just had a meeting with his 4th grade teacher and was told he tested at an 8th grade reading level.”

Learn more about pregnancy; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News.

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