In February of 2016, Kristal Carlson was frantically looking for her daughter when she saw something that is every mother’s worst nightmare: her 2-year-old daughter, Eden, was face down in the pool and unmoving. Kristal pulled Eden from the 41 degrees Fahrenheit water and immediately started administering CPR, but she estimated that Eden had been in the water for about 10 minutes before she found her. This was the result of the toddler pushing through a baby gate, opening a heavy door, and falling into the swimming pool.
Eden went through cardiac arrest and her heart did not beat by itself for over two hours following her drowning, but doctors were somehow able to revive her with a horrifying but unsurprising revelation. Eden had severe, irreversible brain damage. Kristal was told that she would never walk, talk, or respond to stimuli for the rest of her life. She would essentially live in a vegetative state.
Five weeks after her drowning, Eden was released from the hospital and her parents started to research any other treatments that could be done to improve her brain functioning. MRI scans revealed deep injury to her brain’s gray matter, as well as some complete loss of white and gray matter. Her parents found researchers from the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine and the University of North Dakota School of Medicine who were willing to try two types of oxygen therapy.
At the head of the treatments was Dr. Paul Harch, who offers the treatment on an experimental basis since there’s no conclusive evidence proving that oxygen treatments can help brain damage. Harch advised Eden’s parents to give her normobaric oxygen therapy twice daily for 45 minutes each session.
“I told them to video her from right before and then after these initial treatments. I’ve done this before with other patients, adults, and I knew we had a chance to improve this child,” Harch said.
The pair actually put together a video that compiles clips from the videos they took and marks Eden’s progress. Her treatment began 55 days after her drowning and shows her whimpering while her limbs are stuck in a certain position. In nearly all the videos prior to her oxygen treatments, she is crying to a degree and nearly immobile. What ensues for the next several weeks is her being quiet, smiling, laughing, sitting up, and swiping at her toys for the first time since her incident. Next, the family traveled to New Orleans so Eden could undergo hyperbaric oxygen treatment for another month.
“Once that was done she had an immediate boost in her level of neurological function again. The surprise was when she went home and was walking, and her speech was at a level beyond what we had at the drowning,” Dr. Harch said. “We repeated the MRI of the brain showing that the shrinkage of her brain that had happened in the hospital had almost completely regrown, which was unprecedented.”
In the video, Eden can be seen recalling the sounds that certain animals make, like a cat or chicken, which is something she had learned before the drowning and her parents apparently hadn’t coached her in since. Researchers believe that the oxygen therapy was able to activate genes in the developing child’s brain that promoted cell survival and reduced inflammation, which allowed the brain to recover. The results of this case study have been published in Medical Gas Research.
Despite the video and MRI evidence, other doctors and researchers are skeptical about the results. Since these results have not been seen before and oxygen treatment is so low-risk, it’s quite odd that this has never happened at such a large scale on a human before. Though successful trials have been performed on rats, the treatment isn’t approved for humans because there isn’t concrete evidence that it works for anything other than decompression sickness for divers.
“I can’t think of a reason why what has been reported would have happened, and I’d be very surprised if this was a repeatable result. I haven’t heard of this kind of reported outcome before,” said Dr. Oliver Sykes, a consultant anaesthetist at University College London Hospitals who also does hyperbaric treatments. “If the claims made here were true I think we’d know about it by now.”
While we don’t know exactly what happened with Eden, since there is evidence that her brain has reversed its damage but there are skeptics who say it isn’t possible, the outcome truly seems to be a miracle. If it were to be repeated in another human, then the treatments would surely be looked at more closely for their effects on reversing brain damage and the viability of the treatment when used globally. Watch Eden’s miraculous transformation in the video below.