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No "Miracle Cure" for Near-drowning Accidents

It’s no secret that newspaper editors and television news anchors love a story with a happy ending. It’s also no secret that there are more than a few individuals, with either job title, that have been known to play “fast and loose” with the facts in order to sell a little more of whatever his or her employer happens to be selling at the moment. In today’s post, a drowning accident lawyer gives us a few good reasons not to place too much trust in the media.

The Case

In February of 2016, 2-year-old Eden Carlson was supposedly being watched by her 19-year-old sister while her mother took a shower. Somehow, Eden managed to slip past her sister’s watchful gaze, past a gate, and into the family’s backyard swimming pool. According to the news reports Eden, whose body temperature was reported to be 85.1 degrees by one “online” source, was found some 15 minutes later at the bottom of the pool. Fortunately, Eden was revived but was reported to be “brain damaged.”

Somehow, Eden was referred to an out-of-state medical center for “hyperbaric oxygen” therapy (the same treatment used to treat “the bends,” a condition that afflicts SCUBA divers who surface too quickly) because “… there was no such facility in her home state of Arkansas” when, in actuality, there are several. Naturally, Eden made a “miraculous recovery.”

The Problem

As any drowning accident lawyer will be happy to explain, the facts that have been reported just don’t make sense.

First of all, how does a 2-year-old toddler manage to get past a securely-fastened gate in the dead of an Arkansas winter? If you need any more proof that kids can be pretty ingenious, I would like to hear about it!

Next, do you have any idea how long it takes for a child’s body to reach a temperature of 85.1? Most medical references give a time of at least 30 minutes. Regardless of the time, all experts would agree that the only reason Eden survived was that she was the victim of a cold water drowning and that her low body temperature actually protected her brain. The real problem is not how or why Eden survived. Rather, how many parents will now go from one clinic to another in the hope that maybe, just maybe, the next “miracle” will be theirs?

If Eden’s case had been reported in a reputable medical journal, it might be considered as “hopeful” or “promising.” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Eden’s case was reported in a publication called “Medical Gas Research” which is published by the “International Hyperbaric Medical Association.” This publication is what is commonly known as a “trade journal,” meaning that it caters to for-profit businesses such as those that own/operate hyperbaric chambers. Although the report’s authors do indeed have academic credentials, and there is certainly nothing to suggest anything but honesty by all parties in Eden’s care, it is always wise to be skeptical of “case reports” that are taken from non-professional sources.

Finally, at no point in the original article do the authors mention that hyperbaric oxygen has a very poor success rate in treating brain injury following normal temperature near-drownings. In fact, one of the most frequently-cited studies of neurologic impairment following near-drownings in children has reported that 17 of 21 survivors showed evidence of “obvious” cognitive (thinking) and/or motor (muscular) disability when tested up to 5 years after the injury.

Summary

Again, there is nothing to suggest that anyone was negligent in the circumstances surrounding Eden's near-drowning injury and certainly not in the reported success of her treatment."Unconventional" may be a better choice of words in describing the treatment she was given, but there is no doubt that it was well-intentioned and undoubtedly undertaken out of a sense of desperation.

Never-the-less, and despite the recent reports in the popular, non-medical, literature and on television “news magazines”; there is no basis for believing that a “miracle cure” has been found for the pattern of brain injury that is most commonly seen after near-drowning accidents in preschool-age children. Perhaps one day, but this is not that day.

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