Cool Cap Prevents Brain Damage

Cool Caps Prevent Brain Damage

One in 1,000 babies born are deprived of oxygen at the time of their birth. If these babies survive, they are often left brain damaged. The situation has been frustrating for doctors because there is no way to help. But now, a new study shows some success with a rather simple idea.

Each year, Beverly Huff writes a letter to neonatologist William Walsh, M.D. "Just to show our appreciation for what he has done for our family," Beverly says. When her son Cullen was born, he was deprived of oxygen. His parents were told he had an 80-percent chance of brain damage.

"It was, you know, textbook. Normal pregnancy, normal everything," Beverly says. "Then all of a sudden, everything went drastically wrong."

"Why us? That's what I thought," says Beverly's husband, Chris.

Cool Caps Prevent Brain DamageUnder Dr. Walsh's care at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., Cullen became part of a new clinical trial. Within hours of his birth, doctors placed a cap with cold water on his head to reduce his body temperature to between 93 and 95 degrees.

"We were actually worried about the safety of it," Dr. Walsh says. He says, while brain cooling worked in animals, no one knew if it worked in humans, until now. "This is the first treatment that we have had to give us some hope that we could do something."

Doctors say cooling the brain slows down the death of brain cells. The three-year study shows about a 60-percent reduction in disability in moderately brain-injured infants.

"There were no life-threatening or serious events from the cooling," Dr. Walsh says.

Cool Caps Prevent Brain DamageCullen's parents believe the cooling cap made the difference for him. Beverly says: "He is right on target. He goes to preschool. He is starting to read. He is writing his name." And next year, he'll even write his own letter to Dr. Walsh.

The CoolCap is being considered by the FDA for approval. Dr. Walsh warns that the cooling of these infants was done in a controlled setting under strict conditions. Also, while the cool cap did help infants with moderate brain damage, it did not seem to help those who had suffered more severe brain injuries.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Vanderbilt Children's Hospital
2200 Children's Way, Suite 2515
Nashville, TN 37232