WHEN little Sophie Fleet was born it was touch and go whether she would survive.
But thanks to a pioneering treatment which saw her body temperature cooled to hypothermic levels in a ‘fridge’, her life was saved.
Sophie suffered complications during her birth and ended up swallowing fluids which caused a blockage in her airways and starved her brain of oxygen. When she was born it then took her 17 minutes to start breathing on her own.
In a bid to stop her brain swelling and causing brain damage, doctors decided to use a treatment which involved Sophie’s temperature being reduced from its normal 98F (37C) to 92F (33.5C) – low enough to normally bring on hypothermia – and kept it at this level for three days.
Mum Natasha Hall, 26, of Blackburn Court, Gosport, said: ‘The first time we touched her, she was so cold.
‘It was so strange because babies are supposed to be warm. It made you want to put a blanket over her to warm her up.’
To reduce Sophie’s temperature she had to wear a suit which was pumped with water which would keep her body cool.
Her parents couldn’t hold her for six days and had to wait for scans to show the extent of any brain damage.
They say the first few days of her life were like a nightmare.
Miss Hall said: ‘When she was born, I didn’t know what was going on. It was obvious something was wrong but we didn’t know what.
‘We were numb for about three days and then we had to wait to find out how bad any brain damage was.’
Dad Cain Fleet, 35, added: ‘It was really distressing. She wasn’t breathing to begin with and so her brain started to swell.
‘They whisked her away when she was born and then someone told us that they were cooling her body. We’d never heard of the treatment before.
‘Hypothermia is quite dangerous. We were amazed they could use it in a controlled manner to heal. It’s incredible.’
Not every hospital has the baby cooling equipment. But QA has had it since summer 2009 and so far 14 babies have had the treatment.
Huw Jones, a consultant neonatologist at the hospital, said: ‘Until about two years ago all you could do was to support the baby. They would be in intensive care, but there was not much you could do to protect their brain.
‘This cooling treatment helps slow everything down and helps stop brain damage. Research and trials have shown it works and this is the optimum temperature to reduce that brain damage risk.
‘The suit the baby wears constantly monitors the temperature and the machine will pump cooler water round the suit if the baby warms up, or warmer water if the baby gets too cold.
‘The process is something we’ve seen work well and we’ve had some good success stories with babies pulling through and being better than we would have expected.’
After Sophie underwent the cooling process her body was then warmed to normal body temperature again. This was done gradually over a period of 12 hours.
She then had tests done which showed she had suffered mild brain damage.
But her parents know it could have been a lot worse.
Mr Fleet said: ‘Had she not had this treatment, the brain damage could have been severe or it could have been fatal.
‘We’re so grateful that our local hospital has this equipment.’
Miss Hall added: ‘The hospital was fantastic. If it wasn’t for them and the technology, she would not have pulled through.’
Sophie was born on February 11. She was able to go home with her parents nine days later.
Doctors say only time will tell how the brain damage she suffered is going to affect her.
But Miss Hall said: ‘So far she’s doing everything a baby should be doing.’