On February 29, 2016, two-year-old Eden Carlson almost drowned in her family pool in Fayetteville, Ark. While mother Kristal Carlson was in the shower, Eden climbed past a baby gate and got through the heavy door to the pool. She was in the water for ten minutes when Kristal found her and immediately started CPR.
Shortly afterward, EMTs arrived at the scene, taking over CPR efforts and rushing Eden to the emergency room. Two hours after drowning, Eden’s heart started to beat on its own, but she sustained heavy brain damage.
Once stabilized, she was flown to Arkansas Children’s Hospital to receive treatment from top neurologists and doctors. After 35 days, she was discharged, though her condition had not improved.
"When we brought her home, she was a vegetable, unable to do anything," Kristal told CNN. "She had a feeding tube, could not speak, could not sit up." Eden couldn’t respond to voices or other stimuli, and her movement was limited to uncontrollable squirming.
Once she was home, Kristal and her husband began researching other treatments that could help Eden, which is how they found Dr. Paul Harch of LSU Health.
Finally, there was hope.
The Road to Recovery
Harch, clinical professor and director of hyperbaric medicine at LSU Health School of Medicine, prescribed normobaric oxygen treatments for Eden, requiring her to breathe pure oxygen through a plastic tube (or cannula) for 45 minutes, twice a day. The extra oxygen, when carried throughout the body, stimulates healing by encouraging cells to reproduce at a faster rate. In this case, the oxygen influx would hopefully help heal Eden’s brain cells.
After normobaric oxygen treatments, which were given at home, Eden stopped squirming. She regained movement in her arms and legs and started to grasp with her left hand. She was more alert, could track objects with her eyes and was capable of short-sentence speech, though her vocabulary was diminished.
This was progress, but Eden’s recovery wasn’t finished yet. The normobaric oxygen treatments were actually a temporary substitute for the more powerful hyperbaric oxygen therapy (or HBOT). The treatments are similar, but HBOT treatments are administered while the patient is inside a pressurized oxygen chamber. HBOT is usually used to treat serious burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness in scuba divers and other ailments.
HBOT is a highly specialized treatment, and equipment is not common; the nearest facility to the Carlson that offers the treatment was one state away, at LSU in New Orleans with Harch. Eden took normobaric oxygen therapy at home for 23 days until her parents could take her to New Orleans for HBOT.
Though Eden was scheduled for 40 sessions of HBOT, Kristal reported improvement after only 10 sessions. Eden then started physical therapy in addition to HBOT treatments, and her improvements continued.
After 40 sessions, an MRI shows a “near-complete reversal of cortical and white matter atrophy.” In other words, Eden’s brain damage was effectively reversed. The MRI was taken 162 days after the fateful drowning incident.
“The startling regrowth of tissue in this case occurred because we were able to intervene early in a growing child, before long-term tissue degeneration,” Harch tells the LSU Health Newsrooms. “Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning.”
Eden returned home after finishing treatments. Once more, she is a smiling, happy-to-lucky toddler.