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A cool treatment saves the day—and the brain

Despite a terrifying entrance into the world, 2-year-old Christopher Kail is now sailing past his developmental milestones. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

When Cara and Michael Kail left home for Fairview Southdale Hospital for the birth of their fourth child late on 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. 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 quickly stabilized Christopher and transferred him to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital 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 F. 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 might have occurred.

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 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, with guidance from the experts at Amplatz’s NICU Follow-Up Clinic. For more than three decades, the clinic has been a trusted resource and helps to ensure these premature or once critically ill babies’ long-term well-being.

The clinic’s staff—made up of neonatal intensive care physicians (the same doctors who staff the NICU), nurse practitioners, a child psychologist, and an occupational therapist—tracks milestones such as motor development, cognitive skills, and language development at critical times throughout the child’s young life and connects families with additional services as soon as a need is identified.

So far, 2-year-old Christopher seems to be right on track—“walking and running and climbing everything he sees,” his mother reports.

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

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