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A cool treatment saves the day—and the brain

Christopher and Cara Kail (Photo: Jim Bovin)

When Cara and Michael Kail left home for Fairview Southdale Hospital for the birth of their fourth child late on the evening of September 24, 2010, Michael had planned to be home the next day to take their other kids to the Children’s Theatre.

But a rare and very dangerous complication caused Cara to lose consciousness during labor early the next morning, which resulted in an emergency C-section birth, right in the labor room. At one point, neither Cara nor new baby Christopher was breathing or had a pulse.

The team of doctors and nurses revived Christopher within minutes, but it was unclear whether Cara would survive.

While doctors worked on Cara, a neonatology team led by Indu Agarwal, M.D., had Christopher transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital within just two to three hours of his birth to start a cooling therapy designed to preserve brain function after oxygen deprivation.

With the cooling therapy, a special mat drops the baby’s body temperature down to 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The baby is kept cool for three days and then is gradually warmed back to a normal body temperature. The baby then undergoes an MRI, an EEG, and extensive ongoing neurological evaluation to measure the extent of the brain damage, if any, that occurred during birth.

It’s unclear how long Christopher went without oxygen. But his MRI results were normal. His doctors and parents won’t know for sure if all is well until he meets expected developmental milestones later as he grows.

“It’s frustrating, being someone who likes to take care of things right away, especially with your kids,” says Cara Kail, who suffered pneumonia and an infection before she was cleared to leave the hospital two weeks after Christopher’s birth.

But for now, the Kails are proceeding with life as usual, as Christopher seems to be developing normally with only minor concerns. For instance, Christopher has low muscle tone, but he’s compensating and walking like other kids his age. And he’s also had his eyes checked, but so far they look good, too.

“They’ve been monitoring him very carefully,” Cara Kail says of Agarwal and the rest of the care team at the NICU Follow-Up Clinic. “We’re just checking — crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i.’ How great is it that we can say that?”

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