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Hypothermia Saved Our Son’s Life


Ellen Dew

June 5, 2019
If there's a "red flag" of concern that my son Preston can raise, he will wave that flag with gusto. It was that way during pregnancy and he absolutely continued the trend with his birth. All throughout my pregnancy, my son liked to make people nervous. Maybe there was an amniotic band, maybe his blood proteins were low, maybe his kidneys weren't functioning. Or, maybe everything was fine, and he just wanted to make sure we were all paying attention.

Preston is my second child, so I had been "conditioned" a bit by having my daughter Catie, but a mother still worries. When he completely stopped moving a few days before my due date, I knew he was waving another red flag. I called my OB on call at GBMC and he told me to come in for a check. We decided to induce labor. On the monitor, he seemed okay, but his heart rate was dipping periodically and seemed to drop more with each contraction (more red flags). I wound up needing an emergency C-section. The operation went well, except Preston wasn’t crying after he was born. In fact, he was barely breathing and generally unresponsive. My husband Chris and I were panic-stricken. Thankfully, the nurses whisked him up to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) right away.

After further examination, Preston was found to be exhibiting some seizure-like movements. Fearing a potential hypoxic brain injury, Dr. Howard Birenbaum acted immediately to treat him with therapeutic hypothermia. So, for 72 hours, we sat by Preston’s bedside while his core temperature was "cooled" to about 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit). This treatment sounded awful and went against the instinct to keep our baby warm, but almost as soon as his temperature dropped, his condition began to improve. He still needed some breathing assistance, but the seizure movements disappeared, and his heart rate stabilized. After 72 hours, he was "rewarmed" gradually throughout the course of a day and monitored closely to ensure his body could handle the warming process. Chris and I finally got to hold our new baby boy after what seemed like forever!

Preston stayed in the NICU for another week after the cooling until his breathing and heart rate stabilized consistently. With our daughter Catie at home also needing our attention, Chris and I did our best to shuttle back and forth to spend as much time with Preston as possible, but we were burning the candle at both ends. Thankfully again, the nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, and Dr. Maria Pane all took turns snuggling him and making sure he was content in the hours we could not be by his side. And when we were by his side, they took care of us, too. I will never forget some of the emotional conversations I had with the nurses during Preston's 10-day stay. In one of the scariest times of my life, they were kind and always cared for us as if we were part of their own family.

For the first 2 years of Preston's life, he needed some physical therapy services and needed to wear a helmet (like I mentioned, he likes red flags), but he is now a happy, healthy, and active 3-year-old with no developmental delays at all, thanks entirely to the care he received in GBMC's NICU. Not surprisingly, Preston's favorite color is red.

We are especially grateful for Dr. Birenbaum, Dr. Pane, Julie Ward, Christie Breidenbaugh, Nancy McAleer, and Corin Mauldin. Even though it's a place you never want to be as a new parent, we have great memories of the GBMC NICU. It's a bright place, and even fun at times, which I think helps babies and their families to heal.

Chris and I know that we will never be able to repay the NICU team for all it did to save our son, but as a small gesture of our gratitude, we volunteered to serve as the Chairs of the 2019 Father's Day 5K and 1 Mile Fun Walk. We’re thrilled to be able to give back to this incredibly talented, dedicated, and compassionate group of clinicians! Will you join us in helping to ensure GBMC can continue saving the lives of babies like Preston? Register to run or walk today, and please spread the word to others!
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