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Health Team

'Brain wash' technique can help premature babies

Posted April 2, 2010 1:41 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2010 6:25 p.m. EDT

'Brain washing' could drastically reduce the risk of death or brain damage in very premature babies.

The term "brain washing" conjures up negative images, but doctors in Britain have developed a procedure by that name that could drastically reduce the risk of death or brain damage in very premature babies.

The technique was used on Issac Walker-Cox, who suffered a massive brain hemorrhage after his birth. Issac was thirteen weeks premature.

Doctors warned Isaac's parents that there was only a one percent chance their baby would even survive. When they learned about the new procedure, they felt they had nothing to lose.

“We didn't give up hope. We just prayed about it,” said his father, Steven Walker-Cox.

Isaac was one of the first to be part of a pioneering experiment that might reduce the risk of severe brain damage.

Two tubes are inserted into the baby's brain. One continuously drains old blood, debris and toxins from the hemorrhage. The second tube slowly pumps clean, artificial fluid in. Gradually the fluid runs clear, indicating that brain-damaging toxins are gone.

“The inside of the brain is literally washed out,” said Andrew Whitelaw, professor of neonatal medicine at Bristol University.

“It's a bit like having a sink with a lot of coffee grounds in it which are clogging up the drainage of the sink.”

In a recently published study of 77 premature babies who had bleeding in the brain after birth, those treated with the technique were far less likely to suffer disabilities later in life.

Doctors say Isaac's development speaks for itself. He is a normal nine-year-old boy, and he's determined that nothing will hold him back.