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New program aimed at reducing birth injuries in newborns

Birth injuries to newborns in Oregon can have heartbreaking and long-lasting effects. A new program at one of the nation's leading children's hospitals is giving neurologists unprecedented access to newborns in an attempt to minimize birth injuries. The program is aimed at identifying brain injuries that may have a life-long impact if left untreated.

There are only about 10 hospitals in the country taking such measures to detect and prevent brain injuries in infants. The program director said the medical evidence is evident: seizures, especially in the first month of an infant's life, kill neurons. This disrupts brain connectivity and apparently harms the way the brain wires itself for the future.

Seizures are believed to cause learning, developmental and memory problems. This can even predispose a child to epilepsy later in life.

The program uses modern technology and specially trained staff to identify brain injuries in newborns. Nurses are specifically trained to identify warning signs of seizures. Warning signs include unstable vital signs, babies undergoing certain types of therapies and babies who do not show a normal amount of alertness.

Infants showing these signs are hooked up to an EEG to measure the brain's electrical activity. New EEG equipment gives doctors the ability to monitor brain signals remotely without being present in the hospital.

All too often, neurological problems go undiagnosed. The new program hopes early identification will lead to prompt treatment and a better long-term prognosis. One doctor said that about 20 percent of infants in neonatal intensive care units are in the high-risk category for brain injuries.

A common source of these injuries is perinatal asphyxia. This happens when a baby is deprived of oxygen during the birth process. These babies are treated with a cooling blanket. Studies have shown the drop in a baby's temperature can significantly reduce brain injury in these cases. As part of the new study, this treatment is started sooner, in the ambulance when babies are being transferred to the children's hospital from other locations.

Looking forward, the new program is giving hope to families and children at risk for brain injuries. The benefits of the program are immeasurable, as early treatment is imperative for newborns suffering from brain injuries.

Source: North County Times, "New program at Rady aims to prevent brain injury in infants," Paul Sisson, Nov. 3, 2012

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