Cool Tool for Saving Babies' Lives

Avery Reynolds' first moments of life were harrowing. That's because she was suffering from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a life-threatening condition caused by oxygen deprivation. It can inflict severe long-term brain damage, Avery's mom, Amanda Reynolds, quickly learned.

Avery underwent speedy treatment, however, with a new technology available in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Cedars-Sinai Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center: a cooling blanket system. It lowers the body temperature to 92.3 degrees, which slows the body's metabolism to prevent or minimize injury.

"The neonatal cooling blanket system is an example of how our NICU team at Cedars-Sinai combines specialized expertise and the latest technology to provide the best possible care for our tiniest and most vulnerable patients," said Charles Simmons, MD, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Neonatology. "For most babies, within the first moments of their lives, they are wrapped in a blanket for warmth. But for some babies, like Avery, who have been deprived of oxygen before or during birth, this cooling blanket can help to protect their developing brains."

The cooling blanket system is the first-ever treatment available for infants with this type of injury. The blanket was developed based on research scrutinizing why those who nearly drown in freezing water experience less brain damage than do other accident victims who experience oxygen-deprivation. Experts found that cooling slows brain metabolism and reduces the secondary phase of damage that occurs days after brain injury from oxygen-deprivation.

After she was kept under watchful eyes and cooled for 72 hours, Avery gradually was warmed back to normal body temperature under careful monitoring. Today, Avery is thriving.

"We were just amazed by the treatment," Amanda Reynolds said. "Avery is doing what babies do. She coos, moves and sits up. We're so thankful that she's having a normal, healthy life."

At Cedars-Sinai, experts use the blanket system for babies born significantly after their due dates or those who suffer potential brain damage at birth; it is under study for use on premature babies. The cooling blanket therapy is administered by a specially trained team of nurses guided by neonatologists. During the cooling treatment, the baby is closely monitored on a continuous, 24-hour basis by neurophysiologists.