A Cool Miracle

When you meet 7-year-old Jaden, it’s hard to imagine that, as a newborn, his life was in serious jeopardy. The chatty first grader is a whiz at Legos, adores all things Star Wars, and loves to bodysurf.

Jaden entered the world addicted to drugs – a dependency inherited from his mother. Even more dangerous, during birth he suffered perinatal asphyxia, a lack of oxygen that left him at grave risk for brain damage and serious developmental delays.

But that future was avoided thanks to a novel therapy that the neonatologists on our San Francisco campus started to use in 2008 for fragile newborns like Jaden: therapeutic hypothermic (brain cooling) treatment.

“Without UCSF, I really believe Jaden wouldn’t be here, or he would be a very different child.” –Darren, Jaden's Dad

Brain cooling is designed to halt potential ongoing damage caused by oxygen deprivation. The treatment involves cooling the baby with a special hat or blanket that circulates cold water for three days. Research has shown that if the brain is cooled just a few degrees below normal body temperature soon after birth, there may be less neurological damage and, for the very sickest babies, a greater chance for survival. Today, this treatment is offered to between 70 and 90 babies admitted to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals each year.

But even after receiving this transformative care, Jaden came to his adoptive father Darren Main at 16 months old with considerable challenges.

“As soon as Jaden had someone to navigate his care, he flourished,” Darren says. “Getting paired with speech, physical, and occupational therapists was essential. But without the brain cooling, anything we could have done would have been limited.”

Jaden was almost two before he started walking, but when he did, he was running within a week. He didn’t say his first word until he was almost three (“giraffe,” after a trip to the zoo), but within weeks Darren lost track of his skyrocketing vocabulary.

“My greatest hope was that he’d be what he is today – reading, doing math, making friends – everything you’d hope for any child,” Darren says. “But I’d have been content with much less. Just to be functional – I’d have been happy with that. He’s my little miracle.”

And Darren credits the world-class care Jaden received at UCSF for that miracle. When it launched in 2008, UCSF’s Neuro-Intensive Care Nursery was the only one of its kind, combining expertise in newborn brain research with a clinical neonatal neurology service, specialized bedside nursing, advanced infant care, and novel therapies like the brain cooling Jaden received.

“UCSF stands out as a leader in brain-focused treatment for newborns,” says Dr. Hannah Glass, pediatric neurologist and founding co-director of the NICN. “Our NICN has served as a model for similar programs locally and around the globe.”

In March, Darren was invited to the hospital to learn what Jaden experienced in the NICN during the first days of his life.

“I’ve often wondered who cared for him,” Darren says. “When I finally met his nurse, it was so beautiful. The amount of love she put into caring for him when he had no one was incredible. I think it’s important for the hospital staff to know how meaningful their work is. Without UCSF, I really believe Jaden wouldn’t be here, or he would be a very different child.”

Dr. Glass, who was Jaden’s outpatient neurologist, is committed to helping kids like him thrive.

“There are still many unanswered questions when it comes to treating children like Jaden, which is why research is such an important part of our program,” Dr. Glass says. “We are hard at work to continue to find answers.”