A Drowned Toddler’s Recovery Encourages Veterans Suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
Eden Carlson’s Story
In February of last year (2016), 2-year old, Eden Carlson ventured into her backyard while her mother was showering and found herself submerged in their private pool. Not knowing how to swim, Eden was caught underwater-- long enough for her breathing and heart to stop.
Once rescued, the lifeless toddler was rushed to the Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she was revived.
After spending 48 days in the ICU, the doctors at Washington Regional Medical Center told Eden’s family there was nothing else they could do for their severely injured and disabled toddler. Inflicted with extreme brain damage, the doctors were certain she would never walk, talk, or eat on her own again.
After returning home with Eden and refusing to lose hope, Eden’s parents sought out anyone who was willing to help– that is when they came across Dr. Paul Harch.
Dr. Paul Harch is the Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine and is an Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Harch believed Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy could benefit the injured toddler and decided to begin treatment.
Eden began hyperbaric oxygen therapy about three weeks after returning from the hospital. Astonishingly, after 40 therapy sessions and just 167 days after Eden’s drowning incident, “an MRI scan of the toddler’s brain, compared with one taken in the hospital, showed only mild residual injury to the brain, plus a near-complete reversal of brain shrinkage that sometimes occurs in similar cases.” More impressively, with an account from her mother, Eden “began saying more words and speaking in sentences…she started sitting up, crawling, pulling to stand, and trying to walk.”
Today, a year and a half later, she has made astonishing progress—she has nearly reversed all brain damage-- her physical and cognitive abilities are almost back to base level!
Eden’s amazing story of recovery has now gone viral – bringing attention to this little-known thing called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
Let’s dive into the science and theories behind this treatment and how it may be used to alleviate traumatic brain injuries, which are common in the veteran population.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is an FDA approved medical practice that involves applying high-pressure oxygen to patients to treat a variety of health conditions and diseases. During therapy, a patient is positioned in a pressurized chamber and exposed to 100% oxygen, increasing the oxygen content of the blood plasma – this extra oxygen is then transported and delivered to cells throughout the body.(1)
What Conditions & Diseases are Currently Treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is an effective and FDA approved treatment method for 15 varieties of conditions and diseases listed below:(1)
- Air or Gas Embolism
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Gas Gangrene
- Crush injury
- Decompression Sickness
- Arterial Insufficiencies
- Severe Anemia
- Intracranial Abscess
- Necrotizing soft tissue infections
- Delayed Radiation Injury
- Compromised Skin Grafts and Flaps
- Thermal burn Injury
- Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural
- Hearing Loss
What do these 15 rare conditions have in common? These conditions are essentially wounds in the body, caused by different exogenous and endogenous factors. Prefacing this idea of wound healing will help you understand the mechanisms by which Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy works. (1), (3)
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) works through the manipulation of gene expression. When intermittently exposed to 100% oxygen in high-pressure conditions, specific genes are upregulated and downregulated.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy manipulates gene expression by upregulating anti-inflammatory genes and genes responsible for cell growth and repair while downgrading pro-inflammatory genes and genes initiating and supporting cell apoptosis (cell death). This mixture of altered gene expression causes physiological changes that work to preserve existing cells, repair damaged cells, and generate new cells.(2),(3)
- Blood vessel constriction to reduce inflammation(vasoconstriction)
- Blood vessel formation (angiogenesis)
- Decrease in inflammation response (IL1, IL6, TNF Alpha)
- Increase in oxygen diffusion to tissues
- Activation and Increase efficiency of white blood cells (Neutrophil and Macrophage)
- Proliferation of fibroblasts (connective tissue), collagen, and cells responsible for bone growth
- Cell preservation (downregulation of cell death receptor proteins involved in programmed cell death)
- Improvement of mitochondrial energy metabolism
Eden Carlson’s Recovery, Veterans, and The Future of HBOT
So, back to Eden's story, why didn’t the doctors at Washington Regional Medical Center provide Eden with Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment when they realized the severity of her condition?
Unfortunately, the FDA has not approved the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for the treatment of brain injuries– this means Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is not covered under health insurance plans or used in Hospitals.
Over the last 5-10 years, there have been numerous studies published and anecdotal accounts documented related to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a key treatment in brain injury and other investigational applications, which are other applications not approved by the FDA. These applications include common, yet debilitating conditions such as Cancer, Stroke, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Lime Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and like Eden’s injury, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy's role in Eden brain injury recovery excites Hyperbaric Oxygen researchers, who have spent years collecting empirical evidence to show the efficacy of HBOT in treating brain related investigational applications. Eden's results are also encouraging for individuals who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury, like many men and women in our military and veteran community. (4), (10)
A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined as an injury to the brain by impact from a mechanical force, causing inflammation, blood vessel damage, cell damage, and cell death. (5)
Traumatic Brain Injuries are the most common injuries our military troops sustain.(7) According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, 361,092 service members have been diagnosed with mild to severe brain injury as of the end of 2016. More alarming, TBI cases have increased since 2001 – 15-22% of veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan have been diagnosed with some form of TBI.(7)
The primary concern for military veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury during service is the progression of cellular damage that occurs months or years after the incident. Evidence suggests “that a single traumatic brain injury can produce long-term gray and white matter atrophy, precipitate or accelerate age-related neurodegeneration, and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and motor neuron disease.” (7) There has also been a link between the prevalence of PTSD in veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries.(8),(10)
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is effective in treating brain injuries because of its ability to decrease inflammation, repair blood vessels, generate new cells, and enhance cellular metabolism through oxygen and nutrient delivery. (2),(4),(5),(10)
Unfortunately, because Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for the treatment of TBI and PTSD is not FDA approved, many veteran families do not have the resources to pay for the treatment. We hope that trending stories like Eden’s will bring awareness to the possibilities of this therapy and eventually lead a change in the FDA regulations. In addition to anecdotal accounts like Eden’s, controlled research studies continue to demonstrate the efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a primary or adjunctive treatment for TBI and PTSD-- with the potential to improve and save the lives of our Military Veterans.(9), (10)
Make a Difference
There are a few organizations out there that are actively investing time and resources to providing the financial means to allow veterans to see treatment as well as petitioning the government to change its FDA regulations. Consider donating or getting involved in some way – below is a list of two organizations currently advocating for HBOT for TBI and PTSD.
This article provides general information and discussion about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other conditions and diseases. The content provided in this article, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a predominantly harmless practice, however, as will all procedures, drugs, and surgeries, there are contraindications-- always consult with your physician and a certified Hyperbaric Physician before making any treatment decisions.
(1) Shah, Jayesh. “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.” The Journal of the American College of Certified Wound Specialists 2.1 (2010): 9–13. PMC. Web. 27 July 2017.
(2) Bhutani, Sourabh, and Guruswamy Vishwanath. “Hyperbaric Oxygen and Wound Healing.” Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery : Official Publication of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India 45.2 (2012): 316–324. PMC. Web. 27 July 2017.
(3) Leach, R M, P J Rees, and P Wilmshurst. “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.” BMJ : British Medical Journal 317.7166 (1998): 1140–1143. Print.
(4) Harch, Paul G et al. “Low-Pressure Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and SPECT Brain Imaging in the Treatment of Blast-Induced Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury (post-Concussion Syndrome) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report.” Cases Journal 2 (2009): 6538. PMC. Web. 27 July 2017.
(5) Villapol, Sonia. “Consequences of Hepatic Damage after Traumatic Brain Injury: Current Outlook and Potential Therapeutic Targets.” Neural Regeneration Research 11.2 (2016): 226–227. PMC. Web. 27 July 2017.
(6) Gardner, R. C., Byers, A., Barnes, D. E., Li, Y., Boscardin, J., Yaffe, K. "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Is Associated with Increased Risk of Parkinson Disease in Military Veterans: A Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium Study (P4.322)." MedWorm: Medical Search Engine and RSS News. Neurology, 17 Apr. 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.
(7) Mckee, Ann C., and Meghan E. Robinson. "Military-related Traumatic Brain Injury and Neurodegeneration☆." Military-related Traumatic Brain Injury and Neurodegeneration - ScienceDirect. United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, 10 June 2014. Web. 27 July 2017.
(8) Bomyea, J., S. C. Matthews, M. S. Buchsbaum, A. D. Spadoni, I. A. Strigo, and A. N. Simmons. "Neural Differences Underlying Face Processing in Veterans with TBI and Co-occurring TBI and PTSD." Neural Differences Underlying Face Processing in Veterans with TBI and Co-occurring TBI and PTSD - ScienceDirect. N.p., 6 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.
(9) Miskin, B., and L. A. Fox. "Chapter 3 – The Future of TBI: Hyperbaric Oxygen as a Primary Therapeutic
Approach." The Future of TBI: Hyperbaric Oxygen as a Primary Therapeutic Approach - New Therapeutics for Traumatic Brain Injury - Chapter 3. N.p., 7 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 July 2017.
(10) Hindawi. "Long Course Hyperbaric Oxygen Stimulates Neurogenesis and Attenuates Inflammation after Ischemic Stroke." Mediators of Inflammation. Hindawi, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 July 2017.