Why We Exist
Angela and Shawn had never heard of Neurocritical Care before their baby Alivya was born. However, today, no one understands how crucial it is more than they do. What they now know is that as important as it is to save a child’s life, it’s just as vital to save a child’s quality of life.
Baby Alivya was delivered by emergency C-section. Everyone strained to hear her cry, to take a breath. But she didn’t. The delivery room staff at South Health Campus began working to resuscitate her.
“She came out looking white, which we’ve learned is one step worse than blue. It took at least a minute for the doctors and nurses to revive her,” says Angela.
At some point during labour, the placenta was damaged, which meant Alivya had been deprived of oxygen, though no one could say for how long exactly. Brain damage was a serious threat. Meanwhile, one of Alivya’s lungs also suffered damage during her difficult delivery. She was intubated so a ventilator could take over her breathing.
Knowing that time was of the essence, Alberta Children’s Hospital experts were called to South Health Campus so the specialized Neurocritical Care team could take over.
Before rushing her by ambulance to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, they swaddled Alivya in a hi-tech cooling blanket and placed her in a cooling chamber designed specifically for transporting babies like her. This would lower her body temperature with the aim of healing and preventing Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) – the resulting brain injury from lack of oxygen or blood flow to the brain. If it was done quickly, with her goal temperature maintained for 72 hours, it could mean the difference between a healthy and a damaged brain.
“We are amongst the first in Canada to use a cooling device while babies are in transport, even before they reach our NICU and the results have been very encouraging,” explains Neonatologist and NICU lead of the Neurocritical Care program, Dr. Khorshid Mohammad. “The program has cut the rate of permanent brain damage resulting from Hypoxia-ischemia in preterm infants by more than 50 percent through implementation of Neuroprotection care packages. The protocols we are developing along with the earliest possible introduction of our cooling and monitoring practices are helping to ensure more infants survive with fewer side effects down the road.”
Once she arrived at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Alivya was settled into her room in the Edwards Family NICU where experts could begin around-the-clock surveillance, scrutinizing every vital sign and making minute-by-minute decisions about her condition in order to preserve her brain function. Video EEG monitoring was started right away.
“The EEG identified that Alivya was having subclinical seizures, or seizures that weren’t outwardly visible,” says Dr. Mohammad. “Had it not been for this technology, or our practice of continuous monitoring, these seizures most certainly would have been missed and Alivya would be in danger of secondary brain damage.”
Dr. Mohammad and his staff were able to intervene and control the seizures with medication. Alivya’s little body continued to be cooled and her brain was monitored for the next three days.
Angela and Shawn anxiously anticipated an MRI that would show the extent of the injury Alivya’s brain had suffered at birth. What would their daughter’s future look like?
“I will remember MRI day for the rest of my life,” says Angela. “Alivya’s doctors and nurses were beyond excited when they saw the results of the scan. They literally ran to our room to tell us the great news. ‘No evidence of brain injury!’ They were as excited as we were. Shawn and I just burst into tears of relief. Next to being given Alivya, herself, it was the best present we could have received.”
Angela and Shawn know the care their daughter received in the NICU was exceptional and not offered at all children’s hospitals. Today, they fully understand just what the words “Neurocritical Care” mean and what the highly-specialized program meant for their family.
When Angela learned Neurocritical Care is a program made possible by donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation she was overwhelmed.
“If we lived anywhere else, our daughter’s story might have a different ending. We had a team of experts helping us to navigate a very scary situation. We didn’t have to do it alone. I can’t tell you what it means to Shawn and I that Alivya will have this team for as long as she needs them. There are no words to thank the generous people in our community who make this incredible standard of care possible.”