According to the Hope for H.I.E. organization, two to three in every 1,000 full-term births will be affected by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a type of brain dysfunction that occurs when the brain doesn't receive enough oxygen or blood flow for a period of time.
April is H.I.E. Awareness Month. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain cells are injured. Some may recover, but some may die. There are two stages of injury with H.I.E.: The first stage happens immediately after the initial oxygen deprivation. The second occurs as normal oxygenated blood flow resumes to the brain. This is called “reperfusion injury” and occurs as toxins are released from the damaged cells. Babies who experience oxygen deprivation are treated in the neonatal intensive care unit with therapeutic hypothermia to reduce brain damage; however, this treatment is not a cure for H.I.E.
No two children with H.I.E. will be the same, even with a similar injury pattern. The impact of each child’s injury is different based on multiple factors, including what parts of the brain were affected and how each child’s brain moves forward from injury through neuroplasticity, which is the capacity of brain cells to change in response to intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Common conditions resulting from H.I.E. are cerebral palsy, infantile spasms, and cortical blindness. Children with H.I.E. benefit from a variety of therapies to treat these conditions.