It's a treatment that's been around for more than 350 years, and for decades now, pressurized oxygen tanks are used to heal burns, snake bites, and diabetes skin ulcers.
But what's still controversial is its use to heal injuries to the brain. But that is not stopping parents, both here at home, and from nations around the globe, from seeking help from a local doctor who says it works.
The two families may live 2,000 miles apart, but they share the same devotion, love, and commitment to their children. Sofia Lorenzi and Adonis Jefferson, each around two years old, suffered severe brain damage and were given no medical hope to survive.
“The doctor came in and said, ‘I'm sorry. We're going to have to terminate the code, that there is nothing else that we can do for baby Sofia. At this point, we try everything,’” remembers Sofia’s father, Pablo Lorenzi.
“For the first two weeks they kept telling me he wasn't going to make it. He's not going to come off oxygen. He's not going to be able to do this. He's going to be a vegetable,” remembers Quanae Jefferson, Adonis’ mother.
Now both the Lorenzis from California and the Jeffersons from Marrero, hope to see some progress and healing using hyperbaric oxygen treatments from Dr. Paul Harch in Metairie. Both families were highly discouraged by medical professionals to have the treatments.
“There's not enough studies proving the fact, and they say they don't want to see us waste our money, because they know it's expensive,” Lorenzi remembers being told.
“It won't be worth it. It's a waste of money. It's a gimmick. It's a scam. It won't work for him. His brain is damaged. You can't repair it,” Jefferson remembers being told.
Each family sought weeks of daily treatment in the pressurized oxygen tanks after seeing our Medical Watch stories on improvements in other children from around the U.S., and even around the world, like a child who drowned and was given a five percent chance at survival.
Now back home in Morocco, his doctors there were stunned to see on scans, the treatments reversed his shrunken brain, and there’s growth of new tissue.
So, the Lorenzi family temporarily moved the entire family to New Orleans from Lodi, California, for the specialized treatments.
In February, Sofia was pronounced dead after an hour and a half of CPR. She was unresponsive after falling in a hot tub while playing with her five older siblings.
“That moment I just panic, and I just grab her and I screamed very loud, you know, desperate scream, help!” Lorenzi said.
“I just approached her, and hugged her saying like at the same time saying ‘good-bye,’ but also in denial, and also saying, ‘No, Lord. You need to come back, and bring her back, and just praying,'” said Sofia’s mother Magali Lorenzi.
Then, nearly 20 minutes after all medical care was stopped in the hospital, a nurse noticed Sofia began breathing.
“It blew their minds. That's the word they used because how good Sofia was for being without oxygen for that long, or being without a heartbeat for over two hours,” Pablo Lorenzi said.
For Adonis, his condition started with his premature birth, a heart defect, and a severe brain bleed.
“I was scared. Basically, it was an emergency C-section. When they held him up to me, he's not pink. He's blue. He wasn't crying. He had to be transferred to Children's (Hospital) because he had to be resuscitated. They weren't sure how long he was without oxygen,” Jefferson said.
Then an even more frightening phone call from his surgeon.
“‘I need permission to have surgery on your son or he's going to die,’” she remembers the surgeon saying. “I was at a loss and he said, ‘Look, I'm telling you this because his bleed is so severe his brain has shifted.”
“Brain cells communicate, and do their function, by emitting electrical impulses. So, they are in electrical silence, but they are not dead,” explained Dr. Paul Harch of Harch Hyperbarics.
Dr. Harch says hyperbaric oxygen treatment will not revive dead brain tissue. It's treating neurons that are stunned, or crippled from the injury. He cites one case study of a patient 16 years after a stroke.
“They showed with brain imaging, before and after one hyperbaric treatment that what appeared on CT scan to be the densest area of dead brain, it lit up with metabolic function, and they said these neurons have been idling for 14 years,” Dr. Harch said.
He says studies show multiple treatments with a specific dosing of pressurized oxygen, stimulate stem cells. Genes dealing with growth and repair hormones, are turned on and off.
When asked, “Why do you think so many doctors still discourage patients from getting this after stroke and after traumatic brain injuries?" he replied, “Because it violates a belief system in medicine, and the belief system is based on what my generation of doctors was taught, that you can't do anything for a brain injury, a brain problem. The brain has to heal itself."
While Dr. Harch cites studies, and other brain experts cite a lack of studies, these families, now about halfway through weeks of treatments, are moving forward at their own expense of time and funds.
“He's talking more. He's babbling more. He's saying ‘no’ more frequent. No is his favorite word. Last night he slept through the night.” said Jefferson explaining that he has never done that before.
“We're so glad that we made it over here right after her discharge from the hospital. We just see so many changes in baby Sofia since day one,” Pablo Lorenzi said.
Sofia is showing a tremendous change. She is Sleeping through the night, can now swallow and eat by mouth, not the feeding tube. Her stiff locked tongue is gone, and she can now respond to conversations and track with her eyes. The tight-locked fists and knees are now flexible and most importantly, she is smiling.
“If they show a response like this, it means that they will continue to respond on a longer-term basis, to additional treatment,” said Dr. Harch.
And sometimes a parent just wants the baby steps.
“To be able to hold a bottle on his own. I want him to be able to hold a spoon. Like that's quality of life for me. He doesn't have to be able to read me a book, or run down the street, but he can just be able to say ‘That's my mom.’ The small things is what matter to me,” said Jefferson.