Detroit, MI (written by Patricia Ansett/Detroit Free Press) -- Kierra Cain is a healthy, active fifth-grader because Detroit doctors at her traumatic birth 10 years ago cooled her with a chilled blanket to keep her alive.
"She wasn't expected to live through the night," said her mother, Charlotte Cain.
Cain spoke Wednesday about the benefits of the cooling therapy at a news conference in Detroit to announce the results of a study of full-term babies born at risk of encephalopathy, a condition caused by oxygen deficiencies at birth that cause high rates of death. Children who survive often enter school later or have movement and behavioral problems, as well as low IQs.
Kierra, now 10, was one of 190 babies in the study at leading U.S. neonatal facilities.
The study, to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the chilled blankets reduced death rates and cerebral palsy in full-term babies and caused no higher risk of mental or physical disabilities. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Neonatal Research Network.
The therapy, known as hypothermia -- a broader term that encompasses the use of cooling products for patients with stroke and other conditions -- is considered a standard of care now for full-term babies with encephalopathy, said Dr. Seetha Shankaran, primary investigator for the study.
Hypothermia also is being studied for other pediatric uses, including heart stoppages and brain injury, said Shankaran, division director of neonatal/perinatal medicine at the DMC's Hutzel Women's Hospital and its affiliated Children's Hospital of Michigan, both in Detroit.
In the study, the therapy used a type of blanket through which cooled water circulates to lower a baby's temperature for 72 hours. It was conducted between July 2000 and May 2003 to expand findings of an earlier, more limited study.
Though the therapy is relatively cheap -- averaging about $6,000 -- encephalopathy is uncommon, occurring in less than 1 in 1,000 births, Shankaran said. As a result, smaller hospitals may not have much experience with the problem and may need help on proper monitoring of babies with the condition, she said.
Hutzel, a major neonatal center with 6,000 babies born a year, sees about six of these infants each year, she said.
Kierra had several seizures after birth but was put on medication to stop them and has had none since, said her mother, a State Farm office worker.
She stopped needing to take the medication when she was 1 1/2. Now at Fillmore Elementary in Sterling Heights, she loves track, reading, writing and drawing, her mother said.