Return to Life // For The First Time In History, An “Irreparably Brain-Damaged” Drowning Victim Is Cured With A Controversial Oxygen Treatment

By Leah B. Schorr

To watch three-year-old Eden Carlson at play, you’d never think that there was anything unusual about her. She is vivacious and bubbly, and her brown pigtails and sweet smile belie the fact that a year and a half ago, in February of 2016, the Fayettville, Arkansas, toddler was declared by doctors to be in a persistent vegetative state after drowning in the family pool. The toddler, then 23 months old, had somehow managed to slip past the baby gate that had been put up to prevent just such a tragedy and wandered into the backyard—with dire results.

Eden’s mother thought that her older children were keeping an eye on her. Her siblings thought that their baby sister was with their mom. Tragically, they were all mistaken. By the time Eden’s mother, Kristal, discovered her daughter’s motionless body floating in the pool, she had been face down in the frigid water for as long as 15 minutes.

Acting quickly, Kristal pulled her out and began CPR. Paramedics soon arrived to take over, and despite the lack of any measurable blood pressure or heart activity, they refused to give up. It took almost two hours of effort before they succeeded in getting Eden’s heart to start up again and continue beating on its own.

Once she was stable, she was airlifted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, where she stayed for five weeks before the neurologists concluded that there was nothing more they could do. Eden was unresponsive to any stimuli. MRI scans showed that her brain had started to shrink. There was deep injury to the gray matter, the part of the brain critical for muscle control, sensory perception and speech, as well as loss of white matter, which conducts, processes and sends nerve signals throughout the body and affects movement. Her parents were told that she would never talk, walk, or eat on her own or act in response to her surroundings.
The hospital sent Eden home with a special monitor that made sure she kept breathing while she was asleep, sounding an alarm if her breathing stopped and summoning her parents to resuscitate her. Her mother recalls, “When we brought her home she was a vegetable, unable to do anything. She had a feeding tube and couldn’t speak or sit up.” Watching their helpless, unresponsive daughter was “completely devastating. We were just heartbroken.”

Unwilling to accept the doctors’ prognosis, Kristal and her husband, Chris, turned to the Internet to learn what other treatment options were available for their brain-injured child. “I couldn’t just sit back and wait and see,” Kristal said at the time. “We wanted her so much to recover, so we started to look at different alternative methods that had been used to help people who had suffered brain injuries.”

After three weeks of searching they came across experimental research being done by Dr. Paul Harch, a diplomate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the director of hyperbaric medicine at the University Medical Center of Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Dr. Harch was investigating the healing properties of oxygen for a wide range of conditions in which tissues had been damaged by anoxia, the scientific term for severe oxygen deprivation or deficiency.
Specifically, Dr. Harch was pushing the envelope with his use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a painless, non-invasive treatment that enhances the body’s natural healing process through the inhalation of 100 percent pure oxygen in an enclosed chamber in which atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled. The pressurized oxygen, five times higher than that which is ordinarily breathed at sea level, dissolves into all of the body’s fluids—lymph, plasma and fluid of the central nervous system—reaching areas of the body where circulation is diminished or even blocked. In this way, extra oxygen can infiltrate the damaged tissues, and the body can support its own healing process.

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