Physicians at University College Hospital of London used an unusual treatment to save a newborn baby boy whose heart was galloping out of control at nearly double the normal heart rate for newborns. On Tuesday, the New York Daily News reported that Edward Ives, now six months old, was “frozen” for four days in August until his heart rate stabilized.
Ives was born in August with a condition called supraventricular tachycardia, which meant that his heart was beating at a rate of 300 beats per minute as opposed to a normal newborn heart rate of around 160 beats per minute, leaving him with only a five percent chance of survival. Doctors wrapped the struggling baby in a thermal blanket filled with a cooling gel that lowered his temperature from a normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 91.9.
On the second day of treatments, the baby’s heart rate slowed to a normal tempo, but when the cold blanket was removed, it rocketed back up to 300 beats per minute, necessitating two more days of cooling.
“It was horrible to see him lying there freezing in nothing but a nappy,” said Claire Ives, Edward’s mother. “He was heavily sedated so (he) didn’t move much, and he was cold to touch — it looked like he was dead.”
Babies and infants have a remarkable ability to survive cold temperatures. When exposed to cold, the human body has a three-step process that it executes. First, in an attempt to generate heat, the body shivers. If this is insufficient, the body de-prioritizes blood flow to the extremities in order to keep the core and vital organs warm and oxygenated. Finally, the heartbeat and metabolism slow to minimize the system’s need for blood flow and oxygen.
Infants reach the third step much faster than more mature humans, meaning their organs are less oxygen-starved by the time the metabolic slowdown occurs. A body cooled to a core temperature of 61 degrees requires only 20 percent of its normal oxygen intake. This was how a 13-month-old girl who was found face down in a snow bank in Edmonton, Alberta in 2012 survived after being outside in the cold overnight, as well as a 2-year-old in Eau Clair, Wisconsin who wandered out into the bitter cold.
After four days of cold therapy, Edward Ives’ heart rate slowed to normal and stayed there. Doctors began to warm his body back up slowly, at a rate of a half degree every 12 hours. Gradual warming is key in reviving infants from the cold in order to prevent cell damage.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was absolutely overjoyed,” Claire Ives said. “I wanted to be cautious, because I was aware that he could go into an abnormal rhythm again, but it was amazing.”
Now, months later, Edward is a perfectly normal, healthy baby boy, growing up alongside his older siblings, Joscelyn and Hayden.
“There had been so many times when we thought he’d never come home,” Claire said. “It’s just been wonderful.”
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