Doctors decide to freeze a newborn baby for several days in an effort to save its life, a new procedure known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
It all started when Claire Ives was listening to her unborn child’s heartbeat when doctors realized that the fetus’ heart rate was around 300 beats per minute, nearly two times the normal rate of 160.
“I thought I wasn’t listening right or something,” Ives, a nurse in London, told ABCNews.com. “I didn’t believe his [heart] rate could be that fast.”
After doctors were alerted to the baby’s elevated heart rate, Ives delivered her son, Edward Ives, five weeks early via emergency cesarean at the University College London Hospital.
Edward Ives was born with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and was given a five percent chance of survival. SVT is caused by improper electrical impulses in the heart that leads to an irregular rapid heartbeat heart, which then can lead to heart failure or affect internal organs. When the heart beats too quickly, it can’t fill up properly and then distribute blood to vital organs correctly.
A few hours after Edward was born, his heart started to race again. Doctors attempted to reset his heart rate by shocking his heart and giving him different medications, but when that failed they were left without many options except one they had never tried for SVT: They would lower Edward’s body temperature to protect his vital organs and slow his heart rate.
Over a period of hours the doctors used a cold gel blanket to lower Edward’s body temperature to approximately 91 degrees, which both protected his organs and slowed the electrical circuit in his heart. Unfortunately, over the next day, as Edward was warmed up, his heart began to race again. So the team again cooled his body temperature, three days after they had initially lowered it.
“That was one of the worst nights,” recalled Ives. “I asked one of the nurses if he was going to die and she said he might.”
Ives was sent out of the room when the doctors again attempted to slow his heart rate down by not only cooling but administering medication. Eventually they came to tell her that his heart rate had slowed, although he would again need to be warmed up to see if his heart rate was stable.
“It was really strange highs and lows because he was doing extremely poorly,” said Ives. “But, oh, thank God! It worked.”
Doctors then began the slow process of warming Edward, this time going at a slower rate as they carefully raised his temperature only half a degree every 12 hours. This time his heart rate remained stable.
It wasn’t until 10 days after giving birth that Claire Ives was able to hold her son. A month later she and her husband, Phillip Ives, were able to bring Edward home to join his two older siblings.
Now a healthy six-month old, Edward has an excellent prognosis and is unlikely to need further hospitalizations for SVT although he is being closely monitored to see if the irregular heartbeat returns.