Bristol hospital offers hope to premature babies

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Bristol hospital offers hope to premature babies

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Every morning Rebecca Walker Cox feeds her 3 sons before school, but this morning ritual might never had happened for 9-year-old Isaac. He was born 13 weeks premature, and suffered a brain haemorrhage when he was just two days old. He had just a one percent chance of survival, and if he had lived, risked permanent physical and mental disability.

“To read with mum and dad that the hospital told them that I wouldn’t survive is really sad,” says Isaac.

Isaac’s parents decided to allow doctors at Southmead hospital in Bristol to carry out a revolutionary treatment on Isaac to wash out toxic fluids caused by bleeding that were inflating his brain.

Surgeons inserted two tubes into Isaacs’s brain. One tube drained toxins and blood, the other pumped in a clean fluid that released the pressure, a world first.

The results on babies from Britain, Norway and Poland who underwent this new treatment are encouraging.

“Severe disability or death in some cases was reduced in the babies that got the new treatment. But most impressively to me was that in the survivors cognitive disability was significantly reduced with the new treatment,” says Professor Andrew Whitelaw, who has pioneered the treatment.

One of the consequences of being born very early and suffering from a brain haemorrhage is, if the baby survives, that fluids build up inside the brain, causing excessive expansion. This condition is called ‘hydrocephalus’. Prior to this method, standard practice was to drain fluid through needles inserted in the spine or head, with the risk of severe complications.

But this new therapy, Ventricular Lavage, allows Isaac to join his brothers Owen and Ethan at school, and live a near-normal life.