Newborn Receives Lifesaving Care

Serena Myrthal survives unexpected traumatic birth and is a healthy toddler today.
When Serena was born without a heartbeat, NICU staff worked to
save her oxygen-deprived brain with a Cool Cap device.
Above: Serena's mother Ligardine smiles with her daughter, who is
growing into a happy toddler.

Serena's story is one of four inspiring patient stories that Boston Medical Center featured during our 15th annual gala celebration. Watch Serena's story now.


For Ligardine Myrthal what should have been one of the happiest days in her life turned tragic when she was rushed to the operating room for an emergency cesarean section. Her unborn baby's heart had stopped beating and now every second was crucial to the baby's survival. Her daughter, Serena, was born moments later—limp and virtually lifeless.


A team from Boston Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) worked furiously to resuscitate her as minutes ticked by without a heartbeat. As Serena's father Joseph L'Herrison recounts, physicians were glancing at the clock to pronounce her time of death, when a nurse called out that she felt a faint pulse in the baby's foot. Seventeen minutes after her birth, Serena's heart began beating.


BMC's NICU team knew that only extraordinary measures could save Serena from a lifetime of disability due to the oxygen deprivation that her brain had suffered. The NICU team decided to initiate a Cool Cap protocol, placing a cap-like device on Serena's head that would rapidly cool her oxygen-deprived brain using flowing water for three days.


"Cooling the brain helps prevent the spread of cell death by slowing a series of biochemical processes that take place following the initial trauma," explained Alan Fujii, MD, medical director of the NICU. "For babies facing a very uncertain future, we have seen amazing success using this new technology."


"The Cool Cap is one of the special miracle medical 'cures' I have seen in my 40 year career," added Barry Zuckerman, MD, chair of BMC's Pediatrics Department.


Babies born with moderate to severe oxygen deprivation to the brain can suffer from brain damage, including seizures, developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy. Beyond the concern for her brain, Serena remained in critical condition. She was suffering from multisystem organ failure and seizures and required a huge amount of support and attention from BMC's pediatric specialists. Her heart, like many of her other organs was severely damaged.


"At the very beginning we were really not sure if she was going to make it. We were very worried about her. So we did everything we could possibly think of to improve her chances," explained Elizabeth Yellen, MD, attending physician in BMC's Pediatric Cardiology Department.


After many weeks of painstaking care in the NICU, quite amazingly, Serena began to get better. Her organs slowly recovered, her heart function improved and her seizures were controlled. After months of recovery and a guarded prognosis, today, Serena is by all accounts a normal, healthy toddler.


"Serena came in just a little after a year of age and she was running up and down the halls, she was babbling, and you could look in her eyes and know there is somebody home. It is really quite exciting," exclaimed Dr. Fujii.


Serena will continue to require follow up care from BMC staff to track her development and any health issues that arise as a result of her traumatic birth. Although most parents would deem their babies miracles, Serena's parents have special reason to believe that their daughter is a gift from God, but they also don't discount the role of BMC's devoted doctors and nurses.


"The medical staff was very, very wonderful. I love them. I love them very much," said Joseph.