Call For Life-Saving Treatment For Babies To Be Introduced At University Hospital Kerry

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Carmel Finnegan.

A LIMERICK mother-of-two is on a mission to introduce a potentially life-saving treatment into University Hospital Kerry and all of Ireland’s 19 maternity hospitals.

Carmel Finnegan first became aware of the term ‘brain cooling’ during her work as a solicitor with Dennison Solicitors in Abbeyfeale.

Brain cooling –  medical term ‘Therapeutic Hypothermia’  – is used to treat new-born babies with moderate to severe HIE.

HIE (medical term – ‘Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy’) is essentially a form of brain damage, which occurs when a baby experiences reduced oxygen or blood supply, either before, during or after the birth. Subsequently the baby shows signs of abnormal brain activity.

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Brain Cooling involves placing the baby on a cooling blanket and bringing down their temperature to between 33 to 34 degrees celsius. Thereafter, the baby’s temperature is gradually increased to normal body temperature over a 6-12 hour period.

This treatment should start within six hours of birth.

Carmel explains: ‘In simple terms, it’s like a mattress with water. The water is regulated and it cools the baby, which in turn slows down the process at which the brain cells are dying. But timing is crucial. It must be carried out within 6 hours of birth”

However – and this is the cornerstone of Carmel’s campaign – this treatment is only available in 4 of Ireland’s 19 maternity hospitals.

“Research shows this treatment reduces the rate of death, disability and cerebral palsy and is regarded as the greatest single advance in the care of newborns in the past 25 years,” she says. “While it is available in three hospitals in Dublin and one in Cork, that’s of little use to a mother and baby in Kerry or Galway who need urgent care like this brain cooling.”

Carmel is the mother of two girls, aged 3 and 6.

“I’ve experienced childbirth and the mixed emotions of excitement and fear. You’re hoping that everything will be ok and unfortunately for some, it doesn’t always go as planned. In my work as a solicitor, I’ve seen an ever-increasing number of women coming to me to find answers, when their child experiences a birth injury such as cerbral palsy, erbs palsy, developmental delays. I feel quite a number of these could have been avoided.”

The first ever report, documenting the number of babies who underwent this treatment, was published last November.

It showed that 1 in 900 babies in 2016/2017 required brain cooling – 140 babies in total. Crucially, it also showed that 40 percent of babies sent forward for this treatment, were brought from a regional hospital, to one of the four hospitals where the treatment is available.

Evidence suggests that brain cells start dying within 5 minutes when a child experiences HIE. The condition can be fatal, and many babies do not survive. Brain cooling is the only procedure known to improve the brain damage, and yet it’s not available in 15 of Ireland’s maternity hospitals.

“The long-term implications for families is devastating,” says Carmel. “Through work I’ve dealt with cases where these injuries could have been avoided. There are no winners in this situation. Failures such as these, change families lives forever.”

Carmel has written to both the Minister for Health, Simon Harris and to the HSE to express her concern about this issue.

The HSE told her that the smaller hospitals don’t have the staff, training or equipment to be able to administer brain cooling.

Ironically, Ireland is leading the way in terms of research into brain cooling through Paediatric Consultant Dr. Deirdre Murray at the ‘Infant’ research centre in UCC.

Of great concern is that experts fear that 20 percent of babies who could benefit from this treatment, are being missed.  Please support the campaign (Facebook) at https://www.facebook.com/birthinjuries/

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