Cooling Blankets Help Save Babies at Hoops Family Children’s Hospital

Before baby Hudson was born, Jessica and Garrett James knew there may be obstacles. Jessica was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her pregnancy and at 20 weeks, she learned that her baby had fetal hydronephrosis (enlarged kidneys). She diligently visited her physician who shared that there may be more issues to come.

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Mary Payne, MD, pediatric neurologist, examines Hudson a few months after he was placed on a cooling blanket in the NICU.

“We wanted to make sure we were taking all the right steps to make sure our baby would be okay,” said Jessica James. “We were told all of the possible outcomes and knew what we may be up against.” But nothing prepared them for what happened next.

At 39 weeks, Jessica was taken to her local hospital to induce her labor. After her care team broke her water to begin labor, the baby’s heartbeat began to drop and Jessica was taken into emergency surgery for a caesarian section.

Within seconds after delivery, baby Hudson was not breathing. The care team quickly sprang into action, applying CPR until the infant began breathing on his own. His heart rate was out of rhythm and he failed the standardized APGAR test, a method used by healthcare professionals to quickly summarize the health of a newborn to see if extra medical care or emergency care is needed. 

“I couldn’t see what was going on, but knew he wasn’t breathing,” Jessica explained. “The neonatologist came to see me later and explained that he was at high risk for brain damage and cerebral palsy and recommended that he be flown to Huntington.”

Hudson was flown to the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital, a member of Mountain Health Network, where he was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There, therapeutic hypothermia was immediately administered.

When the brain does not have enough oxygen or energy to function, it produces toxic chemicals that can ultimately damage a baby’s brain. During therapeutic hypothermia, a water-filled cooling blanket is used to lower an infant’s temperature, slowly and safely, to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33.5 degrees Celsius). By maintaining this temperature for three days, the baby's metabolic processes slow, decreasing the severity and extent of potential brain injury from loss of oxygen and protecting the brain by minimizing the production of toxic substances that can cause brain injury. After three days, the baby’s temperature is slowly warmed to resume a natural level.

“The sooner we can begin using the cooling blanket, the greater the chance that the baby’s potential disabilities will be minimized,” said Lori Blackburn, RN, BSN, nurse manager of the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital NICU. “By inducing a mild form of hypothermia the brain’s need for oxygen slows various processes that otherwise result in damage to brain cells.”

“I wasn’t able to be at the hospital with my son, but my husband was there the whole time,” Jessica explained. “The staff treated him like family and after seven days in the NICU, Hudson was released to come home. That blanket saved my baby’s life.” 

A year later, Hudson is an energetic toddler. “He is very smart. He blows kisses and says words and you would never know that he once faced the possibility of having life-long brain damage,” she explained. “The team at Hoops took amazing care of him and for that we will forever be grateful.”

For more information about the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital, please visit www.hoopschildrens.org.