Abbeyfeale mom fronts newborn 'brain cooling' drive

Dónal Nolan

A West Limerick mother-of-two is spearheading a campaign to introduce the potentially life-saving treatment for newborns of 'brain-cooling' into more Irish hospitals.

Carmel Finnegan said she first became aware of the cutting-edge procedure through her work as a solicitor with Dennison Solicitors in Abbeyfeale.

Brain cooling, or therapeutic hypothermia in its medical term, is used to reduce the impact of abnormal brain activity at birth. However, at present it is available in just four of Ireland's 19 maternity hospitals; three of which are in Dublin and one in Cork.

Ms Finnegan is now campaigning for the procedure to be made available across all maternity hospitals given the benefits cited by many as to its potential to reduce further harm in the event of moderate to severe HIE.

HIE stands for Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy, a form of brain damage occuring when a baby experiences reduced oxygen or blood supply before, during or after birth; leading to abnormal brain activity. Where brain cooling is available babies suffering HIE are placed on a cooling blanket bringing their temperature down to between 33 and 34 degrees celsius, with the baby's temperature increased thereafter to normal over a six to 12-hour period.

The treatment should start within 6 hours of birth.

"It cools the baby, which in turn slows down the process at which the brain cells are dying. But timing is crucial. It must be carried out within 6 hours of birth," Carmel warned, adding:

"Research shows this treatment reduces the rate of death, disability and cerebral palsy and is regarded as the greatest single advance in the care of newborns in the past 25 years.

"While it is available in three hospitals in Dublin and one in Cork, that's of little use to a mother and baby in Kerry or Galway who need urgent care like this brain cooling."