Loading articles...

Keeping newborns cool: Special blanket offers hope to babies deprived of oxygen

Last Updated Jul 25, 2016 at 4:20 pm EDT

Katie Kaminski, her daughter Tegan and partner Curtis de Vries can attest to the benefits of therapeutic hypothermia. Shortly after their daughter Tegan in this photo taken Monday, July 25, 2016. Tegan was deprived of oxygen at birth and was kept in a cooling blanket for 72 hours until her condition improved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

CALGARY – Newborns deprived of oxygen at birth will soon have improved chances of surviving without brain injuries thanks to a portable transportation cooling device in southern Alberta.

Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary is one of the first care facilities in Canada to purchase the device, which is believed to be more reliable in keeping temperatures cool when babies are moved.

Katie Kaminski and Curtis de Vries credit the cooling blanket for the condition of their daughter Tegan, who is now very active at 13 months, after doctors discovered the baby was in trouble when she was born.

“They did an emergency C-section and the doctors realized she wasn’t breathing, she’d lost a lot of her blood. So they initiated the cooling process and we’re really glad they did,” Kaminski said.

“She stayed cooled for 72 hours and then they warmed her back up. She’s just been really healthy. We’re very thankful for everything everyone did for us.”

The usual treatment has been to simply turn off heat sources or use cold gel packs to lower infants’ temperatures in an attempt to prevent brain damage.

But those methods have their drawbacks.

“With those methods, it can be difficult to maintain a stable temperature,” says neonatologist Dr. Khorshid Mohammad, who spearheaded the purchase of the device.

“The period immediately following birth is critical. We have about a six-hour window to lower these babies’ temperatures to prevent neurological damage. The sooner we can do so, and the more consistent we can make the temperature, the more protective it is and the better their chances of surviving without injury.”

The insulated blanket with a cool liquid inside has been installed on a portable incubator cart that can be sent out with a care team anywhere in southern Alberta — either by ground or air.

“The technology is very simple. Our problem before was that the available machines are heavy. We could not mount it on the transportation incubator,” Mohammad said.

“This one is the only one that is light enough to mount it on the incubator so we are pretty excited about this.”

Dr. Mohammad says about 60 per cent of high-risk cases, who are suffering from asphyxia, are outside the major care centres.

“If the place is far away from our tertiary centre, sometimes it’s too late to catch them. They are outside of the window already,” he said.

The machines cost between $35,000 and $40,000. Mohammad said there are two or three hospitals in eastern Canada who are also considering purchasing one but he hopes eventually all hospitals will have this technology.

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter