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UND doctor plays role in reversing toddler's brain damage after nearly drowning

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GRAND FORKS, ND (WDAZ-TV) - It's every parent's worst nightmare. A child drowns in the pool and is pronounced brain dead. Doctors say there is nothing they can do.

But one toddler overcame the odds and recovered from such tragedy, and the family now has a special connection to a doctor from the University of North Dakota.

It's a one-in-a-million story, and its perhaps the first case of its kind in the history of medicine. And now a doctor from small town North Dakota who works at the University of North Dakota is pushing to document the case and spread the word about this miraculous recovery treatment.

In February of last year, everything changed for Eden Carlson.

Chris Carlson, Eden's father: “She ended up getting through some gates and out a door that's hard for us to open, we didn't think she could open it. And so by the time my wife had showered, she had been in the water for about 10-15 minutes. So she ran out to the pool and saw her floating face down."

A team of EMT's performed CPR on Eden for more than 90 minutes. When she arrived at the hospital, she was pronounced brain dead.

Chris: "One of the disappointing things all parents in this situation face is the doctor will tell them either your child is brain dead or faces severe brain damage. And you ask, 'what's the next step?' and they don't have one."

But Chris wouldn't accept that answer. He discovered Dr. Paul Harch in New Orleans, who specializes in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatments. Dr. Harch started giving Eden oxygen treatments.

Chris: "Almost immediately when we started giving the oxygen, she started calming down. She was tight all over, her knees were up in her chest, her arm was stuck behind her head and she would just thrash all day. And so we saw her kind of relax. And then a couple of days later she smiled. And then she would look at us."

As treatments continued, Eden started to come back.

Chris: “She immediately started talking and rehearsing things she would do before. Like her numbers and animal sounds and things like that. It was an immediate reaction."

And now, Eden's brain damage has been completely reversed.

Chris: "She's back 100% mentally. She remembers the accident, she talks about it sometimes. She'll randomly say, "I fell in the pool. I cried." And then she'll tell us that she came back to us."

University of North Dakota's Dr. Ted Fogarty is friends with Dr. Harch, and has documented and studied Eden's progression every step of the way.

Dr. Fogarty: "I'd just never ever seen anything like this with such an astounding re-growth of brain tissue. And of course we've always been taught in medical school that the brain doesn't re-grow itself."

Dr. Fogarty says Eden's case is the first of its kind. While he's been watching from afar, in a few weeks he'll get to visit Eden in person.

Dr. Fogarty: "I am just going to give her a big old hug. And just look at the smile on that child’s face and think, I am so lucky to be able to be the guy behind the scenes and the photojournalist of that girls recovery. I am just almost speechless at how amazing this whole story is."

As for Eden's parents, they just want to say thanks.

Chris: "Dr. Harch and Dr. Fogarty kind of woke her up and got her back to us, so they all deserve all the credit in the world and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude."

The Carlson family says Eden is doing just fine now. The only thing a little shaky is her balance, but she is headed back to New Orleans for some more therapy with Dr. Harch to try and improve that. Doctors attribute the cold water in the pool, and Eden's young age as major factors in her ability to recover.