All babies love a good, warm blanket, but it’s not every day a cold one helps save an infant’s life.
Yet that’s exactly what happened to Waylon Plank, who suffered from a severe oxygen deficiency, also known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, from the moment he was born Sept. 29.
If not treated in time, the condition can result in brain damage, cerebral palsy, seizures, delayed development and intellectually disability.
“When your child is born, you expect to hear him cry,” said Waylon’s father Justin, who along with his wife Brenda, runs a private trucking business and custom leather shop out of their Greenwood home. “When you don’t, well, it’s weird that you can be grateful to hear a child cry.”
Brenda said she experienced high blood pressure during her pregnancy, but tests had found nothing wrong with her or Waylon.
“We had no idea there might be a problem until he was delivered,” she said.
The Planks said several nurses came rushing into to the delivery room at Kent General Hospital in Dover immediately after Waylon was born. The couple was then given a few brief seconds to kiss their newborn, before he was whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit.
“At first, they don’t tell you anything,” Justin said. “The doctors didn’t seem to have any clue what had happened or what was going on so they had to run a bunch of tests.”
Eventually, the Planks were told Waylon was a candidate for total body hypothermia treatment, but would have to be transferred to Christiana Hospital, part of Christiana Care Health System.
“They put him in a transportation buggy and started him on the cooling therapy blanket before he left Dover,” Justin said. “It’s funny that they call it a blanket, because it looks just like bubble wrap with cold water flowing through it.”
While Christiana Care has been using total body hypothermia to treat infants suffering from oxygen deficiencies since 2010, the transportable version of the cooling therapy blanket has only been available in the last six months, said Dr. Michael Antunes, the medical director of Christiana Care’s neonatal hypothermia program.
“What happens in these cases is the hypoxic event typically causes an inflammatory reaction in the brain that leads to the destruction and death of brain cells,” Antunes said. “Lowering the body temperature of the infant in a controlled fashion can interrupt and hinder that damage, and studies show the treatment works best if you start using it with in the first six hours, which is why initiating the therapy during transportation is so important.”
Page 2 of 2 - Antunes said the cooling blanket is connected to a monitoring computer that carefully lowers the infant’s body temperature to about 93 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours before slowly rewarming them over a six-hour period.
“While it doesn’t help every baby, cooling therapy does improve the outcomes for about 50 percent,” he said. “The effect is something that can only be appreciated over time, so we continue close observation through our Child Development Watch program for the first couple of years of their life.”
Dr. John Stefano, Christiana Care’s director of neonatology, said 38 infants have undergone cooling therapy in the past year, about half of which began the process during transport.
“It really is a service to the community and has been a real benefit, especially to the babies who are brought in from area hospitals,” he said.
After undergoing numerous tests and careful monitoring, Waylon was finally released from Christiana Hospital after 13 days, his parents said.
“We’ve been back to the neurologist once and the doctors will continue to follow his progress until he’s 3 to make sure he meets his milestones,” Brenda said. “But so far, he seems to be doing well.”
Justin said Waylon does seem to have some minor issues with his neck, and it remains to be seen whether he will fully recover from his ordeal.
“He might need physical therapy or have some slight learning disabilities,” he said. “But really, as far as we’re concerned, that’s all very minor compared to what he’s been through.”