The two-year-old Eden Carlson managed to slip through her baby gate while her mother was taking a shower. She also managed to breach a heavy door before falling into the pool. She was in there for 15 minutes before her mother found her and administered CPR.
Eden was rushed to Washington Region Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas were attending emergency personnel were able to resuscitate her — but only after two hours. By the time Eden was discharged 48 hours later, she had sustained some serious, possibly irrevocable brain damage.
At fifty-five days after the incident, Eden wasn't improving, and the doctors recommended oxygen therapy. The first they tried was something called normobaric oxygen therapy, which injects oxygen through the nasal canal (similar to the pictured procedure). Twice a day for 45 minutes each was mildly successful, bringing back some movement to her limbs, and her ability to eat orally and even speak short phrases.
Considering the extremity of Eden's symptoms, but also the immediacy with which her family acted in intervening, the doctors at Washington recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy. In this way the doctors could administer oxygen uniformly to Eden's system through the use of a pressurized chamber like this one. If successful, it could breathe life back into the parts of her brain that had effectively died.
Eden and family were moved to New Orleans for her to undergo these more intensive treatments. After just ten of them, Eden was on the mend, her mother observed, regaining all except her most sophisticated motor functions.
162 days after the drowning, MRI scans revealed that though Eden sustained damage to the brain, the tissue loss had all but reversed. Her motor functions were returned to normal, or better than normal, and the procedure was deemed an enormous success.
Eden's doctors were flummoxed by the surprising efficacy of the treatment. The researchers believe that no such success has been reported with these kinds of treatment in the past. They believe their research shows that the combination of the two types of therapies promotes brain regrowth and stems inflammation.
Of course, such unexpected results caught the attention, and even censure, of the medical community at large. Ian Miller from Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami cast doubts on the conclusions, saying that the brain doesn't just revitalize in the presence of oxygen — that's not how it works. In fact, other experimental uses of HBOT, especially for treating autism and diabetes, is highly controversial and reportedly unsuccessful.
More doctors have come out in opposition to the claims made by Dr. Harch, the leading physician on Eden's case. Though they haven't been able to offer alternative theories, they maintain that oxygen treatments aren't the miracles he makes them out to be.
And it's not just one or two lone physicians who have come out in opposition to the possibly overstated benefits of oxygen therapies. The FDA has an entire page dedicated to dispelling myths and rumors too-good-to-be-true about hyberbaric oxygen therapy. One of the FDA's criteria for approval is in the clear and repeatable demonstration of treatment — and so far HBOT hasn't really shown it for brain damage.
Harch lashed back at his detractors online, reenforcing his findings. He even went so far as to say, "Spontaneous recovery and growth of tissue can possibly occur over time," quite a bold statement. His critics say that the report that collects his data is incomplete or misleading: much of the progress could have been made without the intervention of the oxygen therapies. After strokes for instance, patients can experience new brain vessel growth, but entire areas of tissue is a teensy bit extreme.